On a night when the B.C. Lions and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers kicked off their 2012 seasons with a rematch of the 99th Grey Cup final, all eyes were on one man.
Surrounded by 30 family members from Johnstown, Pennsylvania who attended the game, Lions slotback Geroy Simon became the new owner of the career receiving yards record. Simon surpassed Bombers icon Milt Stegall, now a TV analyst who was on hand to witness the historic occasion.
Known for striking a “Superman” pose after scoring touchdowns, Simon did not get into the end zone on this night, but he didn’t need to. He helped set up 10 of the Lions’ points in a 33-16 drubbing of the 2011 Eastern Division champions.
The game was stopped to commemorate the milestone after Simon caught a 56-yard pass along the sideline from quarterback Travis Lulay at 10:03 of the fourth quarter. After the play, his 18-year-old son Gervon rushed onto the field to hug his father. Gervon is also focusing on football, and is set to attend West Point Military Academy in the fall.
“My sincere thanks go out to my family, and both current and former teammates who have been a big part of this record,” Simon told the crowd at B.C. Place during the presentation of a plaque honouring the achievement. “Their unwavering support has been key to my success on the field.”
Simon’s reception, one of five on the night, accounted for more than half of the 105 yards he compiled in the game. He now has 15,192 career yards; Stegall set the previous mark at 15,153 yards.
“I hope this city appreciates him because he’s consistently so good,” centre Angus Reid said in an interview. ”It’s such a huge span of work. Everybody has one or two plays the fans remember: Geroy has a career. It never ends. You look back and you go, ‘Remember that one game he did great things?’ With him, that’s every game.”
The 36-year-old Simon broke the record in his 14th season and 211th career game (184 as a Lion); he has caught at least one pass in the last 161 consecutive games. B.C. had picked him up in 2001 as a free agent after spending his first two seasons in, ironically, Winnipeg.
When the Bombers released him, it was the latest in a series of rejections he had endured. He had also been cut by several NFL teams; the Tampa Bay Buccaneers let him go on three different occasions. Then he went west and found a home in B.C. with the Lions. More than 30,000 people helped remind him of that Friday night as they chanted his name and showed their appreciation for one of the greatest pass-catchers ever to play in the league.