Chad Kackert got the MVP nod after the 100th Grey Cup—and deservedly so. The Toronto Argonauts’ running back was a human cannonball in his team’s 35-22 win over the Calgary Stampeders. If you can feature a cannonball who catches.
But make no mistake: the difference-maker in the centennial celebration of this grand ritual was Ricky Ray.
Nerves heading into a big game is a condition we can all understand. Even the Argos mild-mannered QB threw an interception on his first play of the game. “It was hard to get into a rhythm tonight,” he admitted afterward. “It was the longest game I think I’ve ever played in, between the pre-game and half-time (shows), and it was hard, just not being able to get into the normal flow of the game.”
But Ray is a player who settles, who adjusts. Always has been, dating back to his earliest days with the Edmonton Eskimos, when I watched him fight his way into a job held by a pretty competent pivot by the name of Jason Maas.
This game, as a result, quickly became tale of two QBs, which is exactly what the Argos wanted. There was Ray, loose and fluid, gunning his way down field to set up a field goal and another touchdown. And there was his counterpart, Kevin Glenn, wound so tight he looked ready to snap, squibbing easy sideline passes and—at the 43 second mark of the second quarter—heaving an interception that Argos cornerback Pacino Horne ran back for a major.
For Calgary, arguably the CFL hottest team, it was the fooball equivalent of a tire fire. Two-and-outs. Broken offensive plays. Untimely penalties. With the score 24-6, the Stamps retreated to their locker room seeking some small glimmer of hope. But they couldn’t find it.
Yes, Glenn rebounded a bit in the third quarter, putting the team into a position to score. “But if you don’t score touchdowns,” said Stamps coach John Hufnagel ruefully, “you’re going to have a hard time winning, and we had to keep settling for field goals.”
There was more to the Argos’ triumph, of course, than Ray’s serenity. Or his deadly accurate arm. Credit will got to Scott Milanovich, the Argos no-nonsense coach for constructing a multi-faceted offence, allowing Ray options he says he never had with other teams. It is also due the devastating Toronto defence, which stuffed Calgary’s one shot at a major at the one yard line.
And, of course, Kackert.
But for me, this game goes down as the one that nudges Ray into the pantheon of great CFL QBs, alongside Flutie and Cavillo and Damon Allen. Despite his 2005 nod as Grey Cup MVP (when he beat Calvillo and the Montreal Alouettes), and his resilience amid the sharp decline of the Edmonton Eskimos afterward, that level of recognition for Ray was in doubt.
He had endured the stigma of yesterday’s man before last winter’s blockbuster trade that brought him to Toronto. He arrived in a city where the future of Canadian football, never mind the Argonauts, remained in question. Over a bumpy regular season, and a better playoff season, his calm seemed to spread. He has laid those questions to rest—at least for the time being.
His performance tonight brings to mind the aforementioned legends in their primes: not the best of his career, but great in the cauldron-like conditions of Canada’s biggest annual sports gathering. Ray is a player who can carry his team, and a good many of the 53,208 people crammed into the Rogers Centre tonight could see it. They shouted their appreciation when Ray stepped onto the dais for the Cup ceremony.
Ray was reluctant to reflect on his legacy after the game, citing the years left in his career: “Hopefully when I’m done playing I’ll have time to reflect on all the memories, the great years I’ve had,” he said.
So enjoy your luck, Toronto. And make the most of the time you have left with a future legend.