When Geroy Simon first came to Canada, he wasn’t expecting to stay long.
After being released by the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers, Simon joined the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 1999 figuring Canada was a means towards kick-starting his pro career south of the border.
But Simon never left. He has a permanent residence in his adopted homeland and was one of the headliners of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2017.
“I thought I’d be here for a year or maybe two, then go back to the NFL,” Simon said. “But I’d always played in a passing offence growing up and when I got to the CFL it just felt very comfortable for me playing in this type of game.
“Once I made the decision I was done with the NFL and was staying here, my career just took off. This (Hall of Fame induction) is very special … it says you were one of the best to ever play in this country and for someone who didn’t grow up in Canada and thought I’d be here for a year or two, it means a lot to me.”
Joining him in the player category were running back Kelvin Anderson, quarterback Anthony Calvillo and linebacker Mike O’Shea. Former Calgary Stampeders president Stan Schwartz and longtime Saskatchewan Huskies coach Brian Towriss enter as builders.
Simon learned of his Hall of Fame induction in March. The following month Simon’s wife, the mother of the couple’s two teenaged children, died unexpectedly.
“I’m doing OK,” Simon said. “Obviously every day is tough but each and every day we put one foot in front of the other and just ask God to give us the strength to keep moving forward and He’s done that for us.
“We’ll continue to do that. I have a great family that’s been very supportive so we just keep moving forward.”
Simon, 42, played 15 CFL seasons, including 12 with the B.C. Lions (2001-12). The six-foot 198-pound native of Johnstown, Pa., retired on top in 2013 after helping the Saskatchewan Roughriders win the Grey Cup on home soil.
It was the third CFL title of Simon’s illustrious career. The six-time CFL all-star and 2006 league MVP retired shortly afterwards, leaving as the most prolific receiver in league history with 1,029 catches for 16,352 yards and 103 touchdowns.
This season, Montreal slotback Nik Lewis (1,042 catches and counting) surpassed Simon’s receptions mark. But Simon’s yardage record figures to stand for some time as Lewis (13,703) is the closest active player.
Upon retirement, Simon returned to the Lions as the team’s Canadian scouting director personnel assistant. The move was somewhat surprising because Simon experienced firsthand the often cruel nature of the game when B.C. dealt him to Saskatchewan prior to the 2013 season after the two sides couldn’t agree on his future role with the team.
“Any business is tough so you might as well be in something you love and feel comfortable with,” Simon said. “I spent basically my whole life working towards something in this game as a player.
“On the flipside I now have an opportunity to do that as an executive. Being in the front office and trying to build a winner is another challenge I look forward to.”
But Simon can’t deal with on-field problems now like he did when he was a player.
“When things didn’t go right (as a player) you could just give a little extra effort, play a little smarter and a little harder and turn your fortunes around,” he said. “Now when things don’t go well, you have to rely on the players to turn it around themselves.
“Many times you want to go and talk to them, give them some feedback on what’s going on and what you think should happen … but all you can do is give them the tools they need to be successful, then it’s up to them to go do it.”
Despite his many individual accolades, the highlight of Simon’s career was winning his first Grey Cup with B.C in 2006. Simon was also named the CFL’s outstanding player that year.
“I’ve been successful as an individual but to win the Grey Cup was really special because it was my first football championship,” he said. “If you’re having success as a team you don’t worry about the individual stuff.”