Ricky Ray goes all-in with CFL all-decade vote
There is perhaps no better gauge for receivers and defensive backs belonging on a Canadian Football League all-decade team than the quarterback who’s set the bar on championships.
Ricky Ray became the measuring stick for excellence even before capturing the record for the most Grey Cup wins by a starting quarterback over a 16-year career that is enough to have him in line for the Canadian Football Hall of Fame two times over.
It’s a legacy that includes five Grey Cup appearances with four Grey Cup victories.
“It’s hard to pick just one, they’re all so meaningful,” said Ray, who tested NFL waters in between his first two championships with the Edmonton Eskimos, before doubling that number again with the Toronto Argonauts over the past decade. “Other than winning in 2003 and then in 2005 – I wasn’t there in 2004 – it wasn’t like I was on a back-to-back team in a sense where it was a lot of the same guys. I think the one that I really have a lot of appreciation for is the 2017 championship.
“My career was kind of up in the air at that point, just the way things had been going from 2014 all the way to 2017. It was like a roller-coaster ride, with some bad seasons mixed in with some injuries, I missed a big chunk of the 2016 season and wasn’t sure what was going to happen the following season – if I was even going to be a starter.
“To have 2017 with what was going on, definitely was a special year and it just made my career that much more fulfilling to be able to have a championship late in my career like that.”
And considering that career began in 2002 and ended in 2018, he has enough first-hand knowledge to pick all-decade squads two times over.
“Yeah, I’ve been a part of the league for a long time and saw a lot of great teams, I played against a lot of guys and had some great teammates,” said Ray, whose 60,736 passing yards ranks him 10th on the all-time list of professional gridiron quarterbacks, regardless of league. “I haven’t followed this voting thing very closely, but it will be pretty cool to see how it kind of shakes out.”
Last week, voting opened to fans, media and players (both past and present) as to who should make up the CFL’s ultimate roster from 2010-19.
But it’s hard to think of any vote that should count more than Ray’s, whose name was raised on both Commonwealth Stadium’s Wall of Honour and in Toronto last year.
“Being a quarterback, you’re going to have some really go-to guys and you develop a good relationship throughout your career,” said Ray, who also points to the B.C. Lions 2011 championship secondary as one of the best he’s ever seen. “For me, I was lucky to have some pretty special receivers to play with.
“The guys that stand out, just like the championships, it’s hard to pick one.”
Topping his own list, which extends beyond the last decade, of course, has to include: Jason Tucker, Chad Owens and S.J. Green.
But there is one whom Ray said separated himself from the pack despite, oddly enough, never having hoisted the Grey Cup.
“Obviously, Fred Stamps. He was an unbelievable receiver because he just had a knack,” Ray recalled. “I think what makes a good receiver is their awareness for the game and playing out there. I’ve played with some guys who were fast and could catch and run good routes, but they don’t have the awareness of how to find the spots in the defence and make those special plays that are real game changers.
“And when I talk about Fred Stamps, that’s what he really excelled at. Just being able to feel the same thing I felt, getting into open places and then having the ability to make those game-changing plays – making spectacular catches or getting open and finding his way to making good plays.
“With Fred, I had multiple years with him doing some great things, so I think putting him up there toward the top would be where I’d start, probably.”
It just goes to show championships, as much as they can be bragging rights for fans, aren’t the be-all, end-all measure of a player. Especially amongst his peers.
“It’s weird, there’s been so many good players that play football for a long time and they just never get that opportunity,” said Ray, who has enough humility to fill out its own roster. “Myself, I got to play in five Grey Cups and be able to win some too.
“It’s just weird how it works out that way and very deserving guys just don’t get that team success that they had as an individual.”
On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge