Geroy Simon is wearing green instead of an orange jersey, but the Greater Johnstown High School graduate will be on familiar ground Sunday.
The Canadian Football League’s record-breaking receiver Simon will play for another Grey Cup championship.
The Grey Cup is the CFL equivalent to the NFL’s Super Bowl Lombardi Trophy.
“This is my fourth Grey Cup (appearance) and it feels like my first one,” Simon said during a Thursday telephone interview.
At age 38, Simon is a slot back in his first season with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, who will play on their home field against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at 6 p.m. Sunday.
Previously Simon was part of two Grey Cup championship teams and appeared in the title game three times with the British Columbia Lions. But during the offseason, Simon and the Lions parted ways and he was traded to the Roughriders, a former rival. The transaction created a buzz throughout Canada because Simon holds the CFL all-time record for career receiving yards, and this season he broke the career mark for receptions.
“This is the reason why I came to Saskatchewan,” Simon said. “I knew from playing against them that they had a lot of talent, but young talent. They needed a little bit of direction – veteran leadership. They have a great group of fans, huge support. Probably the best fans throughout Canada. They needed a few pieces to get back to the Cup. I felt like I could be one of those pieces.”
Simon brought plenty of experience. After spending time in several NFL camps and being part of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice squad, Simon joined the CFL’s Winnipeg Bombers in 1999. His 11-year stay with British Columbia began in 2001.
During his 15 CFL seasons, Simon was part of the Lions’ Grey Cup-winning teams in 2006 and 2011. The former Johnstown star was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player in 2006, and he’s had six league all-star selections and seven divisional all-star honors.
Through the regular season, Simon had more than 16,350 receiving yards and more than 1,000 receptions, both CFL records.
This season, a hamstring injury kept Simon out of the lineup for a month. After his return, he’s had 40 catches for 565 yards, both uncharacteristically low numbers for him.
“I started the year injured. I hurt my hamstring at the end of training camp and missed the first few games,” Simon said. “I got an opportunity to play and I think I played well. The opportunity to catch as many balls as normal wasn’t there. It was a process throughout the year and I figured out my role.
“My role isn’t as much on the field. I did play every game other than games I was hurt. My biggest role is being a leader and showing guys how to be professionals and go out each and every week and win football games.
“Those things can’t be measured. You can measure catches and touchdowns.”
Simon provided intangibles.
The Roughriders began the season 9-2 but went on a four-game losing streak before recovering.
“We have a good team,” Simon said. “Guys got a little complacent and thought we were world beaters. We had someone like me around who has been through big slumps like that and was able to come out of them in the right way and get momentum back in the playoffs. It took us a little while to figure it out and just got it rolling again.”
In perhaps the biggest irony, Simon’s Roughriders beat his former team, the Lions, in the Western final last week, earning a spot in the Grey Cup, which in a bit of great timing is to be played at Regina’s Mosaic Stadium.
“It was really satisfying to beat those guys in the semifinals to put them out of the playoffs,” Simon said. “Just being the competitor that I am and them treating me the way they treated me, I felt like I could have played there and been good for that organization for a couple more years. Beating them was pretty satisfying.”
And what advice will he offer his younger, less experienced teammates on Sunday?
“I tell them to cherish this experience. You never know if you are going to get another opportunity,” Simon said. “Don’t be too uptight. Don’t have too much fun. You have to be even keeled. When it comes down to it, it’s still football. We have to continue playing one more game to reach our ultimate goal.”
Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/masty81.