You might say that growing up in a family of six rambunctious kids, Ricky Ray became accustomed early in life to taking a bit of a pounding.
Whatever its origins, the Toronto Argonauts pivot possesses preternatural calm in the pocket, which he used to devastating effect in the CFL’s East Final.
Early in the third quarter, with the Argos down 17-10 and a hostile crowd of 50,112 at Olympic Stadium in full roar, he showed just how unflappable he is.
Toronto faced second and long from its own 38 and the Alouettes dialled up an eight-man blitz.
Ray stood tall and dumped a little five-yard pass to Chad Owens, the league’s all-purpose yardage king, who duly eluded two tacklers and scooted 70 yards to the Montreal three, setting up the tying score.
“When you’re slow and unathletic you’ve got to stand in there and make some plays ... it’s football, you’ve got to be able to get tackled, too,” he laughed afterward.
Montreal coach Marc Trestman called Ray “an ice-man” earlier this week, and Ray proved him right as the Als tried to crank up the pressure.
They sacked him twice, bowled him over on half a dozen other plays, and winded him at least once.
After the game, Ray just shrugged and said that’s just how it’s been since his days playing pickup in the front yard of his family home in California.
“It’s just been something I’ve been able to do a little bit, it’s not like I watch film and think ‘man, I’m going to stand in there and take this hit to prove something,’<TH>” he said.
When the dust settled, Ray had passed for 399 yards.
“That’s why he’s here, that’s why he’s the guy we wanted,” rookie head coach Scott Milanovich said. “I told him before the game, ‘Ricky, you’re going to have to take some shots today, you’re going to have to hang in there’ ... that’s exactly what he did.”
One play after the catch-and-run to Owens, Ray hit Dontrelle Inman for the tying score.
On the next possession linebacker Marcus Ball picked off Anthony Calvillo, four plays later Chad Kackert scampered 49 yards to make the score 24-17.
Despite an Andre Durie fumble in the final three minutes – both teams committed four turnovers – the Argos held on 27-20 to earn a berth in the 100th Grey Cup.
The Argonauts have not won a Grey Cup in Toronto since 1952.
No one is happier about Toronto getting another shot than Durie.
“It means everything,” the Toronto native said. “I remember being a little kid going to Exhibition Stadium and wanting to play in the big game.”
The Argos were desperate to win and it showed in a playoff encounter rich in sub-plots (Milanovich spent four seasons as an Als coach, Owens was on the Montreal practice roster until 2010).
The Hawaiian pass-catcher had a day for the ages – 207 yards receiving, second-most in CFL playoff annals since 1956, plus 139 yards on kick returns – and was so hyped-up Milanovich said he had to calm him down at half time.
“I definitely feel like I got into some kind of zone tonight, I’m just thankful we made it happen,” Owens said.
His exploits outshone those of the undersized Kackert, who piled up 139 yards.
This was a closely fought contest, in which the Als capitalized on early Argo turnovers to build a 17-7 lead.
As Ray withstood the pressure to lead his team, Calvillo lost his bearings, throwing a pair of awful interceptions in the second half.
“I feel like crap,” said the 40-year-old, who didn’t address his future.
But he did give his team a chance to tie, marching the Als down the field in the final minute, but his end zone pass flew in and out of Brian Bratton’s hands.
The other damper on proceedings was an apparent neck injury to Alouette linebacker Marc-Olivier Brouillette, who lay motionless for long minutes and left on a spinal board.
He later tweeted: “Everything looks good and I will be okay.”