Jim Barker had huge expectations when he acquired veteran quarterback Ricky Ray in a blockbuster trade with the Edmonton Eskimos in December 2011.
The Toronto Argonauts GM envisioned Ray’s calm approach and on-field poise helping secure the franchise its first Grey Cup since 2004. After a slow start with his new team, Ray did just that on the grandest of stages, leading the Double Blue to a 35-22 win over the Calgary Stampeders in the historic 100th Grey Cup before 53,208 spectators at Rogers Centre.
On Friday, Barker rewarded Ray with a contract extension that keeps him in Toronto through the 2015 season.
“A year ago December to a packed room at the CN Tower we introduced Ricky Ray as a man who was going to come and restore success and dignity and excitement to the Toronto Argonauts franchise and ultimately deliver a Grey Cup,” Barker said during a news conference Friday. “He has delivered on all that.
“Our organization, our ownership, have made a commitment to Ricky and he’s made a commitment to us and we are excited about the future of this organization.”
And although he’s coming off a Grey Cup championship and has a new deal, Ray won’t be resting on his laurels as he enters his 11th CFL season.
“In football nothing is guaranteed, contracts aren’t guaranteed,” Ray said. “You still have to go out and perform at a high level.
“That’s what they expect and that’s what you expect of yourself. I don’t think now I can relax a little bit, you’ve got to go out there and perform every week.”
But the move to Toronto was a difficult one for Ray, who spent his first nine CFL seasons in Edmonton and was a fan favourite there after leading the Eskimos to two Grey Cup titles. Not only was the 33-year-old native of Happy Camp, Calif., joining a new franchise but one with a rookie head coach in Scott Milanovich.
The six-foot-three, 210-pound Ray struggled initially as he became acclimated with Milanovich’s offence but still showed a deft passing touch. His 68.6 per-cent passing completion not only topped all league starters but was an Argos single-season record as Ray surpassed the 4,000-yard passing plateau for the seventh time in his CFL career.
However, Ray saved his best for last.
After returning from a knee injury Oct. 19, Ray surpassed the 300-yard passing plateau in three of his final five starts, including a 399-yard performance in Toronto’s 27-20 road win over Montreal in the East Division final.
Toronto fell behind in both of its first two playoff games. Each time, the Argos were buoyed by the even-keel, no-panic approach of their quarterback who rallied them from 10-0 deficits to post-season victories.
Ray was a workmanlike 18 of 30 passing for 231 yards and two TDs in the Grey Cup as Argos running back Chad Kackert took centre stage. Kackert ran for 113 yards on 20 carries and added eight catches for 52 yards to claim MVP honours.
Still, Ray finished the playoffs completing 69 of 97 passes for 869 yards and five TDs with just one interception. He enters the 2013 campaign sixth on the CFL’s all-time passing list with 44,588 yards but with a much better understanding and appreciation of Milanovich, on and off the field.
“He’s an easy guy to work for,” Ray said. “He’s very demanding, he expects a lot out of you but he keeps it to where you have a great opportunity to go out and perform week in and week out.
“It’s not like you’re just talking to a coach. You can talk to him about other stuff that’s not football so when you do have a little bit of down time you’re joking with him and he keeps you relaxed and confident out there.”
Having a year in Milanovich’s offence under his belt will certainly be a major benefit for Ray once training camp opens Sunday.
“Last year I was learning from scratch just trying to figure out what I was doing out there,” he said. “Now I have a lot of game experience to go off of and things we worked on throughout the year I’ll be able to carry over.
“Any changes or tweaks we need to make I can make those and not have to worry about where guys are lining up or what I’m supposed to do. I can be more comfortable with those situations.”