Simon’s unlikely fork in the road brings Canadian stardom

Perry
Perry Bergson
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Geroy Simon will be in Prince Albert on March 13 as the featured speaker at the Big Breakfast fundraiser for the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Prince Albert. The 15-year CFL veteran has won three Grey Cups, including the last one with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Geroy Simon couldn’t have imagined where life would take him.

As a young Pennsylvania boy, Simon admits that he dreamed of playing with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“As a kid you grow up wanting one thing but that might not be what makes you happy,” he says. “I grew up wanting to be in the NFL but when I was in the NFL I was not happy. I was miserable. It was probably the worst time I’ve had as a professional.

“It’s funny that I come to a league in Canada that I’d never really heard of until I came -- I had heard a little about it in university because I went to university in Maryland and they had the team in Baltimore -- but I never dreamed of playing in the CFL.

“But when I got here, I found happiness.”

The 15-year CFL veteran and three-time Grey Cup champion will share that story in Prince Albert on March 13 as the featured speaker at the Big Breakfast fundraiser for the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Prince Albert.

The slotback was pleased to lend a hand to the group.

Big Brothers Big Sisters contacted him about doing their Big Breakfast in Saskatoon last year and it proved to be a success. He was quickly on board when they asked again.

“Big Brothers Big Sisters is a great organization, they do a lot of great things for the youth out there. They’re an amazing organization who does a lot of good.”

He admits that it can be tough deciding what he can do for the many groups asking for his time.

“It’s an availability thing,” he says. “If I’m available, there are a lot of times that I will agree to do it. But at the same time, I do have my own family and I have to find time for them as well. There are times that I will get requests and do appearances but there have also been times that I’ve turned down appearances because I really need to spend time at home with my wife and kids. It’s a balancing act for sure.”

As a result, he and his wife work on their schedules together.

Simon splits his time between Regina and B.C. Two of his four kids are Canadian and his wife is from Montreal.

“I wanted to put my roots down here in Canada and have a long career and do something special. I think I’ve accomplished all those things with the Grey Cup wins and the individual records that I’ve accomplished.”

The Johnston, Penn., product went to school at the University of Maryland, emerging as one of their all-time receiving leaders. He graduated in 1996 and still sits second in receptions and fourth in yards and TDs.

After spending part of the 1997 season on the Pittsburgh Steelers practice squad, he came north in 1999 to begin his CFL career as a Winnipeg Blue Bomber.

He did take one last crack at the NFL in 2000 after his first contract with the Bombers expired. When it proved unsuccessful, he signed with the B.C. Lions as a free agent.

After a dozen seasons there, he was traded to the Roughriders on Jan. 24, 2013 for receiver Justin Harper and a third-round pick in the 2014 draft.

Harper was subsequently released by the Lions last April.

Simon knew about the passion of Riders fans -- which he says is similar to what he experienced playing his college ball at Maryland -- but admits it was still a bit of a surprise.

“I expected it but it’s still a little overwhelming at times,” he says. “Seeing the fan support everywhere you go is something that is kind of overwhelming at times but I love it.”

And CFL fans have grown to love Simon.

He is the all-time CFL career reception leader, surpassing former Bombers teammate Milt Stegall on June 29, 2012.

Simon also leads in career receiving yards.

The six-foot, 198-pound receiver has played in 237 regular season games, making 1,029 receptions for 16,352 yards while scoring 103 touchdowns.

He has only missed the playoffs once -- during that first season in Winnipeg in 1999 -- and as a result has played in 22 post-season games, making 85 grabs for 1,228 yards and seven TDs.

He has won three championships.

“Every Grey Cup means a lot to me but every one is special in its own way,” he says.

In 2006, Simon put up career-best numbers, was named the league’s most outstanding player and won his first title. The second came in 2011 after the Lions started the season 1-6, and then won 11 of their next 13 to claim the Grey Cup.

And his win with the Riders?

“This past year was special because coming to a new team, a team that was my heated rival for over 10 years, to come here and guarantee that we were going to win -- I don’t think a lot of people were on board with me when I guaranteed it -- but I just felt that we had athletes to win it,” he said. “As long as we took care of the things that we need to take care of, we would do that. And we definitely finished it the way that we expected to.”

But it wasn’t easy.

The Riders were 8-1 when they lost a road game to the Bombers on Sept. 8. That sparked a four-game losing streak, followed by a three-game winning streak and another two-game losing streak to end the regular season.

With an 11-7 record, they finished second in the West and rode wins over B.C. and Calgary to the Grey Cup.

They beat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 45-23 on Nov. 24 to claim the team’s fourth title.

He says the squad lost itself for a short time but hard work and an inner belief righted the ship.

“With any good team, you’re going to have your ups and you’re going to have your downs,” he says. “It was important to stay even keeled on both of those ends, whether you are up or whether you are down. You have to remember the things that got you there.”

The Big Breakfast takes place at the Art Hauser Centre at 8 a.m. on March 13. 

Anyone looking to purchase tickets can do so online or by phoning the Big Brothers Big Sisters office at 306-922-1299. Their office is located at 129 11th S. E.

Tickets cost $35 each.

Simon says he likes to get in front of fans and speak to them directly because it gives him a chance to control his own message. The people who attend the breakfast on March 13 are sure to hear a lot of good things about the CFL from the six-time all-star.

“This is the league that gave me a true opportunity and gave me true happiness.”

 

NOTE: Riders fans in Prince Albert can get an autograph from Geroy Simon on March 12 from 7:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. at the Northern Lights Casino.

Organizations: CFL, NFL, Big Brothers Big Sisters Pittsburgh Steelers Prince Albert University of Maryland B.C. Lions Art Hauser Centre

Geographic location: Canada, Maryland, Pennsylvania Baltimore B.C. Saskatoon Regina Montreal Winnipeg Calgary

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