December 12, 2011 – the occasion that Argonauts fans had long desired for. It was on this cold winter day that the Toronto Argonauts Football Club announced the acquisition of 33-year old, two-time Grey Cup Champion franchise quarterback, Ricky Ray from the Edmonton Eskimos.
The arrival of Ray in Toronto was reminiscent of the days when Doug Flutie and Damon Allen suited up for the Double Blue. The acquisition of Ray placed hope into a fan base that had been in the midst of an eight-year championship drought dating back to the 2004 CFL season. Expectations instantly soared and the goal was simple; a Grey Cup title or utter disappointment in a year in which Toronto is set to host the annual CFL spectacle.
Fast forward to nearly a year following the blockbuster trade. Ricky Ray and his Boatmen are preparing to host those very-same Edmonton Eskimos in the Eastern Semi-Final at the Rogers Centre on November 11.
Ray was the signal-caller for one of the most inconsistent offences in 2012. The Boatmen struggled to establish a true offensive identity for a majority of the season and as Ricky explains, it was a work in progress for a large part of the CFL regular season.
“I started feeling better after the bye week. I felt that we were finally starting to build momentum offensively and that (has continued)”, indicated Ray following a recent Argonauts’ practice.
Despite his ongoing struggles within Scott Milanovich’s new offensive system, Ray managed to finish fifth-best in the Canadian Football League with 4,059 yards passing, twenty touchdowns, and eleven interceptions. Ray’s 99.8 passer rating was the third highest amongst starting quarterbacks in 2012.
The Argonauts recorded their second 9-9 campaign in the past three years. The Boatmen finished with a 9-9 record in 2010 and fell victim to the eventual Grey Cup Champion, Montreal Alouettes in the Eastern Final.
Ricky Ray has beaten every team in the Canadian Football League over the course of illustrious ten-year CFL career except for his former team the Edmonton Eskimos. Ray went 0-2 against the Esks’ during the 2012 regular season. He recorded 549 yards passing along with two touchdowns, and two interceptions in the two meetings against the Eskimos during the regular season.
Despite being winless against his former squad, Ray remains in good spirits heading into the Eastern Semi-Final and insists that he is feeling no extra pressure when it comes to beating his former team.
“This will never be a distraction for me”, commented Ray. I’m just glad to be here. I’m happy to be in Toronto”.
Ray also experienced a short stint on the Argos injury list in 2012. Ricky suffered a left knee injury against the Montreal Alouettes on September 23. He was absent from the Argos’ starting lineup for three consecutive games. Ricky returned to the lineup to start two of the remaining three regular season games for the Boatmen, throwing eight touchdowns, and only one interception during that period of time.
Ray is not the only player set to suit up against his former team on Sunday afternoon. Eskimos running back, Cory Boyd is preparing to take on his former team for the second time this season after being unexpectedly released by the Argonauts organization on August 12, 2012. At the time of his release, Boyd was leading the Canadian Football League in rushing with 447 yards and two touchdowns.
Boyd was not out of a job for long as he signed with the Eskimos just hours following his release from Toronto. Cory is part of a committee backfield in Edmonton, consisting of himself, Jerome Messam, and Hugh Charles.
Boyd played his second game as a member of the Eskimos against the Argonauts on August 27. He recorded nine carries for 45 yards rushing in the game. Overall, Cory has amassed just 148 yards rushing and one touchdown since joining Edmonton back in early August.
Cory has received a heavier workload in recent weeks due to a right knee injury to the Eskimos leading rusher, Hugh Charles. Last week against the Calgary Stampeders, he carried the ball eight times for 66 yards and one touchdown in the Eskimos’ regular season finale.
“I’m glad I had the chance to get out there and showcase that I’ve still got (the skills)”, replied Boyd when asked about his strong performance last weekend.
Boyd, much like Ray, is also attempting to down play making his return to the city in which he began his CFL career three years ago.
“It’s business as usual. I can’t lighten up or put too much emphasis on it, I just have to take this as a regular game and it just so happens I’m playing a team I used to play for”, commented Boyd following Eskimos practice on Wednesday.
Although Cory continues to carry himself in a very professional manner, he does admit that there is a “tiny” chip on his shoulder heading into the most critical game of this 2012 season.
“I have a small chip on my shoulder because I’ve put a lot of hard work into that team (in Toronto) and for them to just discard me like I didn’t even mean anything, that definitely gave me something to prove”, stated Boyd.
“I’m going to go out and play to the last whistle. It’s about giving 110% and just playing hard”.
While both Cory and Ricky remain generally discreet with regards to facing their former teams on Sunday, there is certainly extra motivation for each individual to find a way to come out on top in the most significant game of the 2012 season.
– Daniele Franceschi –