It’s nice when you can call Heads and Tails.
I consider myself fortunate to have grown up an Eskimos fan, and grown into an Argonauts fan. Let’s be clear; I’m not saying Tom Wilkinson was ever as good as Ricky Ray. Nor am I about to draw comparisons between Trevor Harris and Warren Moon. But to the fan in the stands, the Argonauts have placed themselves in good position by having two healthy, talented quarterbacks heading in to the playoffs.
Wilkinson won 6 Grey Cups with the Eskimos, including the last 2 as backup to Warren Moon, who went on to win one more with the five-in-a-row dynasty of the early 80’s. They shared playing time as Wilkinson neared the end of his career and Moon began his journey to becoming one of the most prolific passers in professional football history. They brought the calm, cool experienced veteran together with the physically gifted youngster able to light up a crowd. In 1981, the Esks fell behind 20-1 at halftime. They put in Wilkinson to calm the team down, and once Moon regained his composure he was back in the game to complete one of the greatest comebacks of Grey Cup history with a Dave Cutler field goal with only seconds left on the clock. (Coincidently, 1981 was the last time Ottawa was in the Grey Cup. They’ve had a tremendous season this year, but no cheering for them yet.)
In 1983, the Argonauts rode the tandem success of Joe Barnes and Condredge Holloway to win their first Grey Cup in 31 years. Coach Bob O’Billovich’s run and shoot offense relied almost exclusively on the pass. When Holloway faltered in the first half, journeyman Barnes came on and led the team to victory in the 71st Grey Cup.
The 2015 Argos have found themselves in a similar position. While some fans will bicker and complain and create a sense of quarterback controversy where none exists, reality is that they’re both good choices, with both of them facing challenges of different natures.
Ray is the consummate professional, mentally sharp and cool under pressure. He has a history of winning, including 3 Grey Cups and his 100th regular-season win just last week. When he gets hot, he can take apart a defense with cold precision. Harris is enthusiastic, energetic, and has the type of gung-ho leadership that sets up the type of last-minute comebacks that the Argos have orchestrated this season. His ability to spread the ball around a talented receiver’s corps and move the ball downfield in a no-huddle offense might be his biggest asset.
Ray has months of rust that two late-season starts may not have rubbed off. If he can get the team off to a good start and take the crowd out of the game early then his experience pays immediate dividends and reverses a season-long trend of falling behind early. Harris had a good start to the season, but his recent struggles can be attributed as much to teams adjusting their defenses from scouting reports as it might be to a dip in his performance. What he brings to the table is that energy and controlled desperation you need in the late stages to generate a game-winning drive.
If I’m the coach, I’m pretty happy I’m given the opportunity to go into the playoffs with two healthy quarterbacks. We see how other teams have struggled with their number one’s out with injury (Hamilton), and what it’s like with a lack of depth (Montreal.)
If I’m the coach, I’d want Ray on the field to eat up a long time-crunching drive to take time off the clock with a lead. But I’d want Harris on the field to bring us back from a deficit in the last moments.
If I’m the coach, I’m not going to be judged on whom I named as the starter this week, but as to when I made the call to switch QB’s with the game on the line.
And lastly, if I’m the coach of the Argos, I make sure to take a small bow in acknowledgment of a stellar coaching job in difficult circumstances this season.