Hamilton

Longtime Hamilton Tiger-Cats star linebacker Simoni Lawrence retires from football

Simoni Lawrence announced his retirement from the CFL on Thursday. Lawrence, 35, played 11 seasons in Canada, the last 10 with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats after starting out with Edmonton.

Lawrence will serve as a community ambassador for the Ticats and Forge FC

Hamilton Tiger-Cats linebacker Simoni Lawrence speaks during a media availability in Hamilton on Thursday, February 15, 2024. Lawrence, who played 11 season in the Canadian Football League with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Edmonton Elks, announced his retirement from football.
Hamilton Tiger-Cats linebacker Simoni Lawrence speaks during a media availability in Hamilton on Thursday, February 15, 2024. Lawrence, who played 11 season in the Canadian Football League with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Edmonton Elks, announced his retirement from football. (Nick Iwanyshyn/The Canadian Press)

He's done with football, but Simoni Lawrence will forever remain part of Hamilton.

The star linebacker announced his CFL retirement Thursday. Lawrence, 35, played 11 seasons in Canada, the last 10 with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats after starting out with Edmonton.

But the gregarious Lawrence isn't going anywhere. He'll serve as a brand and community ambassador with Hamilton Sports Group, which owns the Ticats and soccer's Forge FC.

"Hamilton has always felt like home since I got here in 2013," Lawrence said. "It's hard to find stability in the game of football, especially up here in Canada.

"I'm extremely grateful for Hamilton, for being able to stay in one place for 10 years . . . I can't thank Hamilton enough for letting me call this my forever home."

Lawrence said the decision to retire wasn't easily reached.

"You think about it and you're like, 'I can keep going, I've got some more in me,"' he said. "But you know it's like I always say, I live in a world where I just do what makes sense.

"The position and offer I got from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats off the field is good for myself and my family."

Lawrence said a big reason why he fit in so well in Hamilton is its striking similarity to his hometown.

"Upper Darby, Pa., is very similar to Hamilton, the people are very similar," he said. "You guys ever go on vacation, go to Upper Darby and you'll feel right at home, like you've been in Hamilton, for sure.

"I could just relate."

Retirement party on Wednesday at Tim Hortons Field

Lawrence long held the unofficial title as the CFL's top trash talker, but always backed it up. His on-field tenacity and outgoing, fun-loving personality off it made the six-foot-one, 231-pound Lawrence a huge fan favourite in Hamilton.

Lawrence won't have problems easing into his new role. As a Ticats player, he participated in over 500 community events and dedicated thousands of hours to charitable causes throughout the city.

Not since the legendary Angelo Mosca, who died in 2021, has there been a Ticats player that Hamilton fans identified with and revered more than Lawrence.

"The thing about Hamilton is they've been very loyal to me as a player," Lawrence said. "When I was talking to Scott Mitchell (Ticats CEO) he was like, 'This isn't something that's like a handout. You've earned everything that you're about to receive.'

"That just made me feel good as a human being and ready for the next challenge."

Ticats supporters can honour Lawrence during his retirement party Wednesday at Tim Hortons Field. Tickets can be obtained with a $21 donation (Lawrence wore jersey No. 21) to Food4Kids Hamilton.

Lawrence's CFL career began inauspiciously in 2012 with Edmonton following NFL stints with the St. Louis Rams, Philadelphia, Chicago and Tampa Bay. He appeared in 15 regular-season games (starting one), recording 15 tackles, 11 special-teams tackles and one fumble recovery before being dealt to Hamilton in the off-season.

Lawrence made an immediate impact with his new team, registering 53 tackles, three special-teams tackles, a sack and three interceptions in his first season. Hamilton advanced to the Grey Cup, losing 45-23 to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Regina.

Lawrence amassed 742 tackles (32 for loss), 35 sacks, 15 interceptions, 13 forced fumbles, and 11 fumble recoveries over 169 career regular-season games, including 154 with Hamilton. He was a three-time CFL all-star, five times an East Division all-star and named the conference's top defensive player on three occasions.

Lawrence is Hamilton's all-time leader in total tackles (734), defensive tackles (727) and single-game tackles (17).

Hamilton Tiger Cats Simoni Lawrence celebrated a sack against the Saskatchewan Roughriders during second half CFL football game action in Hamilton on Thursday, June 13, 2019.
Hamilton Tiger Cats Simoni Lawrence celebrated a sack against the Saskatchewan Roughriders during second half CFL football game action in Hamilton on Thursday, June 13, 2019. (Peter Power/The Canadian Press)

Lawrence is an all-time Ticat great, Steinauer says

"Simoni embodies what it means to be a Hamilton Tiger-Cat," Orlondo Steinauer, Hamilton's president of football operations who also served as Lawrence's defensive co-ordinator (2013-16) and head coach (2019, 2021-23), said in a statement. "He was a fierce competitor in practice and on game days who will surely be remembered as one of the all-time greats."

After injuries limited Lawrence to nine games in '22, he appeared in all 18 regular-season contests last year. His final CFL campaign featured 84 tackles (three for loss), five sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception.

But it's the relationships Lawrence forged that will remain special.

"It's like the bonds you created with the guys, the relationships you created with the coaches, all the different players around the league," he said. "Just the people, for sure."

If there's a disappointment, it was not bringing Hamilton its first Grey Cup title since 1999. The Ticats made four championship appearances during Lawrence's tenure (2013-14, 2019, 2021), falling short each time.

Twice, they came agonizingly close.

In 2014, Hamilton appeared to take a lead over Calgary on Brandon Banks' 90-yard punt-return touchdown with roughly 30 seconds remaining. But it negated by a holding penalty and the Stampeders held on for the 20-16 victory.

Then in '21 at Tim Hortons Field, Winnipeg rallied from a 22-10 fourth-quarter deficit to down Hamilton 33-25 in overtime.

"It was tough not winning the Grey Cup," he said. "We play the game to win the Grey Cup but I had a great career.

"I'm going out like Charles Barkley. He's still doing well so it's all right."

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