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QB Ricky Ray of the Toronto Argonauts prepares to throw against the B.C Lions during the first half of their CFL game in Vancouver, British Columbia, September 15, 2012. (BEN NELMS/REUTERS)
QB Ricky Ray of the Toronto Argonauts prepares to throw against the B.C Lions during the first half of their CFL game in Vancouver, British Columbia, September 15, 2012. (BEN NELMS/REUTERS)

cfl

Argos fight for playoff win and Toronto’s affection Add to ...

The trade that sent quarterback Ricky Ray to the Toronto Argonauts from the Edmonton Eskimos remains one of the most suspicious, strategically advantageous deals in CFL history, maximizing the home team’s chances of appearing in, as well as playing host to, the Grey Cup’s 100th anniversary game.

Now it’s time to see the deal through to its conclusion, to move ahead mystically to a dream matchup between the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Argos, or to Plan B – The Braley Bowl, with David Braley’s Argos playing David Braley’s B.C. Lions, a twist of sorts on those old Roughriders/Rough Riders gems.

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The nine-team league with two similarly named clubs has morphed into the eight-team league, one-quarter of which is owned by the same guy.

Eskimos? Montreal Alouettes? Destiny has it in for you this season, and god help us all if there’s a suspicious officiating decision along the way.

At this point, if you live outside Toronto, please look away. Might I suggest a fine article on Adam Oates by my colleague James Mirtle? Or David Shoalts’s incisive piece on the NHL’s labour negotiations? Because this is the point in the buildup to Sunday’s Eastern Conference semi-final at the Rogers Centre where it is a necessity to go parochial, to point out that if Ray can somehow lead the Argonauts to victory over the Eskimos, it will be a moment of significance locally. Because we don’t do playoffs in Toronto. Not often. And as for winning playoff games in this city? The Raptors did it last, in 2008.

It will only get worse if the Argonauts win on Sunday and win in Montreal and … no.

No, it is inconceivable to go there. Would an Argos’ title slake Toronto’s thirst? That’s debatable. First, this is a Maple Leafs city. Second, to really make an impact in this marketplace, a team needs to beat a team from another really big city. Think New York or Chicago.

At any rate, it is time for Ray to show us what all the fuss was about. Ever since the Argos hired the worst coach in the city’s history – any sport, any time, any place – in Bart Andrus, this team has gradually been cobbling together a functioning, CFL brain. Hiring Jim Barker was the first step. Bringing in a coach who understands the mechanics and calling of a CFL game, Scott Milanovich, was a further step forward, and adding Ray and his CFL pedigree was the necessary next step.

“We’re just doing what we envisioned at the beginning of the year,” Ray said Wednesday, albeit acknowledging that finishing first in the division was a goal that was not achieved. Still, the Argos have a home playoff date and Chad Owens is the Eastern representative for the CFL’s most outstanding player award, and that, too, is at least partly on Ray.

“He’s always on time,” Owens said when asked about the role that Ray has played in his outstanding season. “And he throws a catchable ball. I mean, I don’t want to say it’s a soft ball, but it gets there on time and it doesn’t sting.”

Milanovich was an assistant coach with the Alouettes when Owens crapped out with the club. Milanovich says he never would have predicted Owens’s success, but adds that was the same way he felt about Geroy Simon. “You knew they were going to be good players,” Milanovich said, “but you can’t predict stuff until it happens.”

Milanovich says Owens’s ability to grasp the nuances of being a receiver moved him out of the realm of a one-trick, special-teams pony: getting depth on his pass routes, knowing when to break, understanding that even if there’s no defender around him, he isn’t really open until the quarterback is ready to deliver the ball.

Finally, the Argos seem to have a collective, CFL brain, even if they can’t yet lay claim to their city’s heart.

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