Banks leaving, Simoni staying made for an emotional 24 hours in Tiger Town

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There are a few players who come to mind when thinking about Ticat greats from this generation, but the two at the top of almost any list would be Brandon Banks and Simoni Lawrence.

One will continue his Ticats legacy after Lawrence re-upped with the team on a one-year contract extension on Friday. The other said goodbye to the franchise and its fans on Thursday when it was announced Banks and the Ticats had “mutually agreed to part ways.” .

The news on Thursday was a shot to the gut for many Ticats fans, but it also wasn’t a total shock. Banks took a significant step back in 2021 after an all-time season in 2019 that saw him named the league’s best player. His numbers were down across the board and not just because the 2021 season featured four fewer games.

Banks played in just 10 games last season, catching 44 passes for 474 yards and two touchdowns. Injuries derailed him almost from the jump, though his production did pick up late in the season and during the Ticats’ Grey Cup run.

The writing was seemingly on the wall when younger players, namely Steven Dunbar Jr. and Tim White filled in admirably in Banks’ absence. The Ticats also recently re-signed diminutive receiver Papi White, who was an ultra-productive receiver at Ohio University, and could easily be a potential replacement for Banks in the team’s receiving corps.

Regardless of the understandable reasons why Banks is no longer a Tiger-Cat, it didn’t make it any easier on the fan base. The outpouring of emotion from the Ticat faithful even made your curmudgeonly scribe a little misty-eyed. Banks wasn’t just a player on a football team. After eight years in Hamilton, he became a part of the fabric of the city.

That won’t change — even if Speedy B does the unthinkable and signs up to wear Double Blue. Many Ticats legends have dawned enemy colours, but they have all been welcomed back with open arms.

OK, maybe not all — I’m looking at you, Mike O’Shea.

Regardless of where Banks plays next, he will always be fondly remembered in Hamilton. Banks had a stated goal ahead of last season of breaking Earl Winfield’s franchise record for all-purpose yards. He won’t do that now and, like Winfield, Banks will leave Hamilton without having accomplished the ultimate goal of winning a Grey Cup.

Yet in 20 years when Banks is long retired and his name is joins all the other all-time great Tiger-Cats on the team’s the Wall of Honour — and probably before that when he is enshrined in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame — no one will remember where his career ended. No matter if he is a Lion or an Elk or even an Argo, Brandon Banks will always be a Tiger-Cat.

On the other end of the spectrum, Simoni Lawrence is returning to Hamilton for at least one more season. Banks and Lawrence both came to Hamilton in 2013, with Lawrence finding his way to the Steel City in one of the most lopsided trades in CFL history.

All Lawrence has done since arriving in Hamilton is become one of the best defensive players of his generation. He is the franchise record holder for career tackles, holds the record for most tackles in a game, and is the back-to-back top defensive player in the East Division. Unlike Banks, who saw a steep decline in 2021, Lawrence remains at the top of his game.

Lawrence and Banks received the vast majority of the headlines, but don’t overlook the return of running back Don Jackson, who inked a two-year extension the same day as Lawrence. Jackson’s insertion into the starting lineup late last season was a catalyst for the Ticats going on an impressive 4-1 run to end the regular season, and was a big part of the reason the Ticats were able to roll through the Als and Argos en route to another Grey Cup appearance.

The only concern with Jackson is health, as he has played in just 11 games the last two seasons after his breakout rookie campaign in 2018 with Calgary. If Jackson can stay healthy, the Ticats will once again have a very entertaining and explosive offence.

With the return of a new favourite in Jackson and a franchise legend in Lawrence, while also saying a bitter goodbye to one of the greatest players to ever wear a Ticats uniform in Banks, it was a highly emotional last couple of days for the Tiger-Cats and their fans.

Josh Smith has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.