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Geroy Simon may have three Grey Cup rings, hold the all-time record for CFL touchdown receptions and receiving yards and go down as one of the greatest players to ever lace up cleats in the CFL. But Superman’s career highlight may be taking place this Saturday when he flies home to Johnstown, PA for his induction to the Cambria County Sports Hall of Fame. “It’s a big honour for me,” Simon said this week while preparing his annual tour of NFL training camps. “To be recognized in any Hall of Fame is huge, but it’s special to me because it’s the area I grew up in, and with all the great names of athletes who have come through there, it’s pretty special.”
Those fellow inductees he speaks of include New York Giants Super Bowl winning quarterback Jeff Hostetler, Jack Ham, member of the famous Pittsburgh Steelers “Steel Curtain” defence, and Cy Young winning pitcher Pete Vuckovich of the Milwaukee Brewers.
The most amazing part about Geroy’s journey to becoming the greatest CFL receiver ever is the fact it almost never happened. The year was 2001. After two productive seasons with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Superman gave the NFL another shot – he bounced around a few training camps in 1997 and 1998 before migrating north – but was ultimately cut by the Kansas City Chiefs. “I was going to quit football,” number 81 recalls. “I was in Kelowna with my wife, she was my girlfriend at the time, and we were having my son Jaden. The only reason that got me back to football was because it was October and I needed a job. I couldn’t go back to school because the semester was half over. I needed a job to get me to the next semester.”
So then-Lions GM Adam Rita signed Geroy to the practice roster, promoted him to the active roster one day later, and the rest as they say, is history. Geroy now admits he wasn’t exactly over the moon about trading in red for orange. “I signed with them kind of reluctantly,” Simon admits. “There was still times where I said I was going to play until I get enough money for a house in Maryland and work for Under Armour.” His college teammate at Maryland, Kevin Plank, founded the sports clothing empire in 1996. It wouldn’t be long before the touchdowns, highlight reel catches and Superman poses became the main focus of his everyday life though.
Growing up in Johnstown no doubt prepared him for the obstacles that followed at the start of his pro football career. For many youngsters in the area, it was a tough place to be raised. “It’s a pretty rough area. Sports is an outlet for a lot of people,” said the 2006 CFL Most Outstanding Player. “For a lot of people, the only way to get out is to go into the armed forces or play a sport, get a scholarship and get out. It was an old steel town and the mill shut down. It’s ravaged with drugs and crime.”
So Geroy did what Geroy does. He picked a few sports and excelled in them all. Whether it was football games at old Point Stadium, baseball at Roxbury Park or basketball at War Memorial Arena ( the filming location for the cult classic hockey film Slapshot), Geroy made his presence known in whatever game he played. He is particularly fond of the annual Winter Classic High School Basketball Tournament the arena has held for many decades. “Guys like Lew Alcindor, ( known now as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) Danny Ferry and Rasheed Wallace came through there,” Simon said.
“I had the opportunity to play in that arena for two years and actually played against Wallace in the Christmas tournament. They were ranked number three in the country and to play them really showed you what basketball was all about.”
As we all know, football won out and Geroy parlayed his solid four years at Maryland into those NFL opportunities in 1997 and 1998. One of those was with his beloved Steelers, the team he grew up worshipping and harbouring thoughts of one day playing for. “If you’re from Western Pennsylvania and don’t cheer for the Steelers, you might be in big trouble,” Simon said.
So there he was, sharing the same practice field with the likes of Jerome Bettis, Kordell Stewart, Yancey Thigpen and one of the NFL’s most ferocious linebackers, Greg Lloyd. “This dude was the scariest dude in
the world,” Simon recalls. “They put up the card, I see my route and I’m like ‘alright, I am just going to go catch this ball,’ and I see Lloyd, we didn’t even have pads on, and he just clotheslined me when I was running a slant, just levelled me. I was like ‘Holy S**t’ , Greg Lloyd just smacked me. It was my ‘welcome’ to pro football.” Geroy’s Steelers dream was brief, but it was a memory he will cherish forever. “I was in awe of going to Three Rivers Stadium and just having an opportunity to wear a Steelers helmet, even if it was only for a month. I was in my glory.”
Lions fans all over BC are grateful of the fact this became his true football home. Geroy remains hard at work in his new role of Canadian Scouting Director and has recently been more hands on with the club as a guest coach at training camp in Kamloops. Could he still suit up if needed? Seeing as he is one of the most humble guys you will ever meet, he would likely say no – but we wouldn’t ever count him out.
For now, he is excited about boarding a plane to his Hall of Fame induction this weekend. “Even though I live in Vancouver now, I am still proud to say I am from Johnstown and Cambria County. It’s a place I will always represent and be proud that I am from there.”
We might want to send the Chiefs a thank you card for keeping him an extra month in that fateful year of 2001.
Matt Baker: firstname.lastname@example.org