‘Like Jordan wearing the four-five’: Ticats’ legend Simoni Lawrence won’t rule out future return after retirement

Photo: Bob Butrym/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

Legendary Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ linebacker Simoni Lawrence may have graduated from professional football on his own terms, but he won’t rule out the possibility of returning for a master’s degree.

In an extensive sit-down on CHCH‘s Sportsline podcast, the 35-year-old played coy with the idea of a late-season return to the field if the Ticats run into injury trouble. While he wouldn’t fully commit to the hypothetical, the outspoken defender did not waste an opportunity to place himself alongside some all-time greats.

“Come back like Jordan wearing the four-five, of course,” Lawrence laughed at the suggestion. “Kobe with the eight, Kobe 24 — I don’t know, man.”

“As a community and brand ambassador, I’m focused on the people. Football, as you can see, I have graduated from and I don’t know when you graduate, are you allowed to go (back)? I wrote the book on graduation, I gotta go back and look and see what I wrote. If it’s allowed, I’ll think about it.”

Lawrence announced his retirement on February 15, ending a 14-year pro career in which he spent ten seasons in Hamilton. The news was met by an outpouring of support from Ticats fans and a city-wide celebration the following week, with Mayor Andrea Horwath declaring February 21 to be ‘Simoni Lawrence Day.’

The native of Upper Darby, Pa. accepted an ambassador position with the Hamilton Sports Group and will remain fully entrenched in the community. He chose to brand all the festivities as a graduation rather than a retirement in order to signify the start of something new.

“I say graduation because it’s not like I get to come here and hang out with you on the chair all day,” Lawrence pointed out to host Bubba O’Neil. “It’s still cooking up and stuff. I called it a graduation because I felt like it was moving up.”

In 169 career CFL games, Lawrence amassed 742 defensive tackles, 32 tackles for loss, 35 sacks, 36 pass knockdowns, 15 interceptions, 13 forced fumbles, and 11 fumble recoveries. He was a three-time CFL all-star, five-time East Division all-star, and three-time East Division Most Outstanding Defensive Player, leaving as the franchise’s all-time leader in total tackles, defensive tackles, and single-game tackles.

The future Hall of Famer hit free agency on February 13 and after weighing all his potential on-field options, opted to take his talents to the business side of the operation.

“For me personally, I think it was the best thing as far as moving forward for me career-wise,” Lawrence explained. “Football is one of those careers where it’s pretty stagnant. Every year, it’s let’s win a championship and then it’s a reset. Let’s win the championship and then it’s a reset. It kind of felt like a rabbit wheel, just running, just running, just running, but not going anywhere.”

“As much as we do in the community and stuff like that, I felt as far as moving my life forward, maybe starting a family and possibly children and things like that, playing a kids game, you get caught up in the kid atmosphere a lot too.”

One thing that was never seriously considered during the decision-making process was a departure from Steeltown. Staying in black and gold was essential for the veteran, not just because of what the team and city have meant to him, but also because of the hurdles that might have arisen elsewhere.

“Hamilton’s home. I couldn’t really picture myself anywhere (else),” Lawrence insisted. “I look around the locker rooms and I don’t think people understand this about playing football — or at least playing football as Simoni Lawrence in the CFL — I am super decorated here in Hamilton and that comes with a lot. Playing football in one city comes with a lot.”

“There’s no other team in the league that looks at Simoni Lawrence as not a villain. I’m the guy you go on the field and the coaches are like, ‘Make sure 21 doesn’t make plays. We hate 21.’ So it’s like going into any (other) locker room is work.”

Lawrence was well-known across the CFL for his on-the-edge playing style and constant trash-talk, becoming a controversial figure in several cities. He freely admits that his on-field persona was carefully curated to maintain a specific reputation in the most macho of professional sports.

Dropping some of that facade, if only slightly, will be one of the upsides of stepping back from the game.

“As far as somebody like myself, I’m talking all the time. I’m cracking jokes all the time. I’m always at a high level. I can’t let anybody ever see any chink in my armour at any time,” Lawrence remarked. “I’ve been playing football for the Ticats for 10 years, now I finally get to relax and kick my feet up. Maybe walk to the car instead of running.”

That doesn’t mean letting himself go, however, as the now-former linebacker sees staying in shape as just another essential component in his job of representing the organization publicly.

If that also means he’s ready to jump back on the gridiron if needed, then so be it.