It didn't happen until there were just over 10 minutes left in the B.C. Lions' season-opening clash with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, but history was made Friday night at B.C. Place. Slotback Geroy "Superman" Simon caught a bomb from Travis Lulay that went for 56 yards at 4:57 of the fourth quarter, giving him 15,192 career receiving yards and allowing him to break former Bomber and current TSN analyst Milt Stegall's record of 15,153. Simon had opportunities to break the record earlier in the night that he couldn't haul in against tight coverage, but for some reason, the Bombers left him open deep on this play, Lulay made no mistake and Simon hauled in the pass, causing the stadium to go wild. You can see video of the play here. The game was then stopped for a presentation from Stegall and CFL commissioner Mark Cohon, and deservedly so; this is a tremendous accomplishment, one that means a lot in the grand scheme of the CFL's history, and one that deserves all the recognition it can get.
It was appropriate that Simon notched the milestone in this game, as not only was Stegall the legendary face of the Bombers' franchise for years, but Simon started his CFL career there as Stegall's teammate. Following an impressive NCAA career at Maryland, where he finished second in school history in both receiving yards (2,059) and receptions (185), Simon came north of the border to Winnipeg, but he didn't find instant success. In fact, as Stegall pointed out during Friday's telecast, Simon started on the Bombers' practice roster. He soon made his mark, though, seeing action in 10 games in 1999 and catching 34 passes for 304 yards, then recording 725 yards and seven touchdowns in 2000. In the 2001 offseason, he left for B.C. as a free agent, and although he only played six games and put up 182 receiving yards that season, better things were soon to come.
Simon started to shine in B.C. in 2002, playing in 17 games and picking up 754 receiving yards that season, but his ascendancy was really solidified the next year when Wally Buono came to town as head coach and general manager. Simon's had over 1,000 receiving yards every year from 2003 on, shooting as high as 1,856 in 2006 and 1,750 in 2004. Those numbers are remarkable in their own right; for reference, Simon's 2006 season had more receiving yards than any CFL player put up last year, while his 2004 season would have been only slightly below Jamel Richardson and a full four hundred yards ahead of the #2 man in 2011. However, that #2 man is also Simon, recording 1,350 receiving yards during a year where he turned 36. Few players ever record a 1,000-yard receiving season; Simon's done it for nine straight seasons, and Friday's game was the 162nd-straight contest he'd made a catch in. It's that kind of unbelievable consistency and age-defying skill that's allowed Simon to break Stegall's remarkable record.
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Of course, records like this are about teammates too, and there's no dispute that Simon has been on some good teams and played with some remarkable quarterbacks (Dave Dickenson, Casey Printers, Friday's opponent Buck Pierce and now Travis Lulay), while Stegall was there through a lot of awfully lean years in Winnipeg. That doesn't degrade Simon's accomplishment, though; plenty of other receivers have come through this Lions' organization during their last decade of success, and none have made close to the impact he has. The Stegall versus Simon debate may be held in bars around the country for the next decades (and it's likely that the vote may split alongst regional lines), but there's no denying that both are incredible athletes who made huge impacts on the CFL.
The frightening thing with Simon is that he may not be close to done yet, though. As mentioned above, he finished second in the league in receiving yards last season, and he's showing no sign of slowing down, picking up 105 yards on five catches Friday night. He's a fitness fanatic who works himself extremely hard, when he's not coaching minor football or helping a variety of great causes, and he's said that he doesn't want to hang up his cleats just yet. If Simon can maintain the consistency he's shown over the years, there may be plenty of impressive highlights still to come, and that should terrify the rest of the CFL.
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