Defending Grey Cup champion Lions look for strong start against Bombers
VANCOUVER - Geroy Simon will try to make history Friday as the B.C. Lions kick off the 2012 CFL season in a Grey Cup rematch with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
In the process, he and the rest of the defending-champion Lions will also try to offset a bitter part of their past.
Simon enters his 14th season needing 67 receving yards to surpass the mark of 15,153 held by retired Winnipeg great Milt Stegall. Believing the record will mean more when his playing days are over, Simon is more intent on helping the Lions make amends for a poor start to the 2011 campaign when they went 0-5.
"I'm expecting to get it done, but I'm not going to try to force anything," said Simon after a walk-through at B.C. Place Stadium on Thursday. "The thing is, we'll just let the game come to us and try to get a victory. If the record comes with that, then that'll be great."
The Blue Bombers have a way of intersecting with Simon's historic moments. He began his CFL career with Winnipeg in 1999 and won a Grey Cup and league most outstanding player honours in 2006 with the Lions in the Manitoba capital. Then the Lions beat the Bombers for the sixth Grey Cup in franchise history last November.
Approximately 20 friends and family, including several from Simon's hometown of Johnstown, Pa., will be at B.C. Place for the potential occasion. Simon attributes his success to lessons learned growing up in Johnstown, Pa., the city depicted in the classic hockey movie "Slap Shot." He is still regarded as a legend from an outstanding high school football, basketball and track career.
"It's a hard-working, blue-collar town," he said. "It's a steel town, but there's not a whole lot of positive things going on there. It's taught me the ability of hard work and what hard work can do for you, and persistence and all those things that can make you tough - not only on the field but off the field. Coming from there, it's a tough place, and I think that's helped me as an athlete."
If Simon sets the record, the game will be stopped for a ceremony that will include CFL commissioner Mark Cohon and Lions general manager Wally Buono. New B.C. coach Mike Benevides said he does not expect the ceremony to be a distraction.
All the same, the Lions are looking for as few roadblocks as possible to a quick start, which Benevides called "tremendously important.".
"We want to be as good as we could be as fast as we could be," said Benevides. "Are we going to be as good as we are going to be Week 1 as we are Week 18? No. That's a normal progression. But we want to start as fast, as physical and as disciplined as we can as a football team."
Benevides has been stressing the importance of a strong start since the opening day of training camp in Kamloops, B.C. Now, the Lions have to put all their talk about the present and forget about the past — namely the Grey Cup win — to the test.
However, Benevides, who has a much more animated coaching style than predecessor Buono and offers some unusual rewards, is confident that his troops are heeding his message.
"The men are excited," he said. "They're well prepared, and now we've just gotta strap (the equipment) on and go play."
While the Lions look to pick up where they left off last season, the Blue Bombers are hoping to counter their poor finish. Winnipeg commenced the 2011 campaign 7-1 before going 3-7 down the stretch and finishing with a 10-8 mark.
However, the Blue Bombers will have a difficult task as they battle as series of injuries. Top running back Chris Garrett will miss the season with a torn Achilles tendon
Among the wounded, offensive lineman Glenn January is dealing with a lower-body injury, but could play. Defensive back Deon Beasley (lower body) is definitely out.
"We really believed Chris Garrett was going to have a great year, but you've just gotta do your best and play with the players you have," said Winnipeg coach Paul LaPolice.
Notes_Lions rookie offensive guard Matt Norman will have an active role in his CFL debut. He is expected to start as B.C. guards Dean Valli, Jesse Newman and Jon Hameister-Ries, who could play, nurse knee injuries. However, Norman's first CFL season won't last long. He is scheduled to return to the University of Western Ontario to study teaching in the fall so that he can complete the one-year program before it is extended to two years.