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When it comes to the Grey Cup, not even Superman can say he batted .1000. In fact, Geroy Simon didn’t even score a touchdown in the big game until his final appearance- and final CFL season- with Saskatchewan, a 45-23 win over Hamilton in the 2013 championship. The consummate professional and ultimate team guy, Simon insists it was about winning first, and individual stats a distant second.
“Not scoring a Grey Cup touchdown as a Lion was something I always thought about, but it was never really a big deal,” Simon insisted.
“I never really worried about it. I just wanted to win so badly. That was the main focus. Against Winnipeg (in 2011), I almost had a couple chances. I remember one specifically where I caught the ball near the sidelines and tiptoed out of bounds. Had I kept my balance, I could have ran down the sideline and potentially gotten to the end zone.”
The main offensive weapon in an era where GM/head coach Wally Buono brought the franchise back to prominence with some shrewd moves, Simon won two rings with the Lions, and then went out on top following a rather controversial trade to the rivals from Regina. His first trip to the Grey Cup came in 2004; the second year with Buono at the helm and after a thrilling come from behind overtime victory against Saskatchewan in the Western Final; a result witnessed by over 55,000 fans at BC Place.
When future teammate and 2006 Grey Cup hero Paul McCallum missed a chip shot field goal attempt from 18 yards out in the first OT mini-game, it seemed like Simon and company were a team of destiny. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be against an equally resurgent Toronto Argonauts squad in Ottawa, led by former teammate Damon Allen.
Looking back on it, Simon recalls some uneasy moments in the nation’s capital that may have led to their demise. At the top of that list was the infamous quarterback situation with Dave Dickenson and Casey Printers.
We didn’t know who the starter was going to be all week until introductions came. Once Dave came out I still thought we were going to win, but we just struggled hard all game and could never get on track,” Simon recalled.
“Although Casey had won the Most Outstanding Player that year he didn’t have the best games against Toronto. They played that match coverage and Casey really struggled with that.”
That decision is still debated today. You could see the argument on both sides. Not only had Printers struggled against the Argos, he also had difficulty moving the chains against Saskatchewan before leaving with an injury. The Dickenson-led comeback may have also had a big impact on Buono’s final call. All this being said, having two number one quarterbacks should be a good problem to have. It wasn’t in this instance.
“We could never really find our mojo because half of our snaps (in practice) were with Dave and the other half were with Casey. Although we had a good first drive, I still don’t know that we felt comfortable,” the Hall of Famer added.
Another thing that threw them off was a fight that took place on the team bus on the Saturday. Simon had a front row seat to it all, and is still confused by the whole thing 13 years later.
“It was between Da’Shann Austin and Marcus McFadden. I didn’t even know what happened because it’s always loud and obnoxious on the bus. Marcus, who was 6’, 330 pounds, jumped on Da’Shann, who was a little DB, maybe 185 pounds. That was not a good matchup. I just remember people breaking it up and JoJuan Armour hitting Marcus.
“The next day I think Marcus was concussed because he tried to hit me in the pregame meal. He said I was the one that hit him. I said ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ I was half asleep at the pregame meal and this big dude is trying to fight me the day of the Grey Cup. I had to tell him I was the one that broke it up. We were like best friends after that, but it was very weird. It threw me off of my game and definitely that whole experience messed us up,” Simon remembered.
It went down as a 27-19 Toronto victory.
Although the disappointment was heavy, the focus quickly shifted to 2005. The Grey Cup would be in Vancouver, and anything less than a victory would be deemed unacceptable. That’s how high the standard had become under Buono’s stewardship. An 11-0 start quickly turned into a second half collapse and it all came crashing down in a 28-23 home loss to Edmonton in the Western Final.
To add insult to injury, the Eskimos finished the job and sipped from the Cup at BC Place the next week. Perhaps all of this made Simon’s first ring in 2006 a lot sweeter.
“It was a feeling of accomplishment; just knowing that I had never won a championship ever in football. That being my first championship and just the way we did it, with all the All-Stars and award winners, to end it off with a Grey Cup win was just very special,” number 81 said.
That was a year where Simon won the CFL Most Outstanding Player and defensive lineman Brent Johnson took home Most Outstanding Canadian honours. In addition, Simon and Johnson headlined a group of eight Lions named as CFL All-Stars.
They won the West with a 13-5 record and blew away Saskatchewan 45-18 to set up a date with Montreal in the Grey Cup at Winnipeg’s Canad Inns Stadium. It was far from the oil painting many had expected, but Simon and company controlled the play for much of the afternoon, winning 25-14.
“It was just a matter of us not screwing it up. I think we knew that we could beat Montreal, and it was just a matter of going out and playing the game within ourselves,” Simon said.
Simon and Dickenson admittedly didn’t play their best that day. The good news? We witnessed the sign of a championship team for three-and-a-half hours: the kind that wins with contributions from everybody.
“There was a couple of things that we didn’t account for obviously, like Montreal marching down the field and being on our one-yard line and getting ready to score a touchdown before Carl Kidd and Javy Glatt saved us on a 3rd down quarterback sneak. That really changed the momentum of the game.”
McCallum kicked six field goals and the lone touchdown was a pitch from backup QB Buck Pierce to Ian Smart; a small, speedy running back who had been cut by Montreal earlier that same season.
“We didn’t rely on just one guy. Just about every receiver had close to a thousand yards. We ran the ball well and played good, solid defence. That team was very talented. We could beat you a number of different ways,” Simon recalled.
“I went into it expecting to have a monster game because I had monster games all year. I didn’t really do much of anything.”
Most professionals will tell you they expect to win it again the next year. Simon and the Lions would have to wait until 2011. Another home Grey Cup and more mentions of “championship or bust.”
After a 0-5 start and the re-opening of BC Place to great fan fare on September 30th, it would indeed be the storybook season many had hoped for. Simon attributes his second championship to the fact the games became crucial very quickly.
“That was a big relief; knowing where we started to where we finished,” Simon explained of 2011.
“Every game after week eight or nine was basically a playoff game for us. We had been playing the intensity of a Grey Cup or at least playoff intensity for nine, ten, eleven weeks and to finally do it at home was something that was really special. It was a great way to finish the season off; winning it all at home.”
The Lions, Eskimos and Stampeders finished with identical 11-7 records. Simon’s club took first place by virtue of winning the season series against both of those squads. McCallum won a game against Calgary- the second at refurbished BC Place- on a 53-yard field goal as time expired.
That’s just how razor thin it can be: no successful filed goal there and they would have ended up in 3rd and had to go into frigid Edmonton for the Western Semi-Final. It’s those little things that Simon learned to appreciate over the course of his Hall of Fame career.
2012 was even more successful in the regular season, but they could not get it done at home against Calgary in the Western Final. It would prove to be Simon’s final game in orange. For him, it wound up being a blessing in disguise as his only season in Saskatchewan resulted in the franchise’s 4th Grey Cup, won at their friendly confines of old Mosaic Stadium. Simon had his only two Grey Cup majors in that victory.
“Winning the one in Saskatchewan just gave me validation that I could still play at a high level and I could contribute to a team on a championship level. And then it also proved that Wally and the staff members that didn’t believe in me were wrong. I still had a lot left in me, I could still make a big contribution and I showed that,” Simon claimed.
He will obviously be remembered for his time in orange, not green. And Geroy Simon is the prime example of a player who had to experience the pain of losing before the thrill of winning Canada’s ultimate football prize.