Chad Owens paused for a minute, spun through the past several CFL seasons in his mind, and considered what seemed an unbelievable suggestion. Could it actually be true? Three-time Grey Cup-winning quarterback Ricky Ray, holder of countless records, has never won the league's Most Outstanding Player Award. It's a fact.
The veteran pivot in his 12th CFL season was a finalist for the award last year. He was the Grey Cup MVP in 2005, his first of two championships as an Edmonton Eskimo – he left for Toronto in 2012 and immediately orchestrating another Cup triumph. Somehow, in the parade of star quarterbacks to win the MOP in the past decade – such as Anthony Calvillo, Travis Lulay, Henry Burris and Damon Allen – the prolific Ray is not on the list.
Now, leading the CFL in passing yards and touchdown passes with his team battling atop the East Division, many say he's due to be recognized.
"I think this may be his year; I really hope it is," Owens said of the star pivot, who hit him with a 69-yard touchdown strike last week to cap off Toronto's 21-point fourth quarter and erase a 17-point deficit to beat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 34-33. "The quarterback position is already stressful, then you throw in all the injuries we've had to receivers this year. He hasn't just kept it together and done the job, he's done it at an extremely high level. It really shows his character."
The Argos began the season with a lacklustre 3-7 record, and Ray had lost five of his top receivers before Labour Day. The Double Blue shuffled different targets into the lineup, many of them rookies – Ray has completed passes to 20 different receivers this season, including 14 for touchdown passes, a number the humble pivot admits he hadn't approached before in his career.
Yet Ray leads the league with 3,861 passing yards so far this season. His 27 touchdown passes have him on pace to finish tops in that category, too, something he has never done and no Argo quarterback has done since Doug Flutie in 1996 and 1997. In recent weeks, Ray has steered Toronto to three straight wins, and at 6-8, the Argos are locked in a three-team race for first place in the East with Hamilton and the Montreal Alouettes, who visit on Saturday.
"[Early on] he was struggling but still playing above-average – not what Ricky would consider his brand of football, and I know it was frustrating," Argos coach Scott Milanovich said. "Rookies make mistakes, and that's what Ricky was seeing at receiver. And new tailbacks, too. What he's gone through has been difficult, but he's done a great job."
The slender and subdued veteran is as business-like as it comes. When it's suggested he may be a favourite for this year's honour, Ray's expression is unchanged. The words seem to bounce off him as if it were ordinary banter, and he maintains an unshakeable aura of been-there, done-that calm.
"I don't think I've had an outstanding season," Ray said. "There are things I could have done better – our win-loss record isn't where it should be. I always have the feeling I could play better. I don't get into where I am in any award thing."
Edmonton QB Mike Reilly may be a candidate too, and perhaps Calgary's pivot, Bo Levi Mitchell.
Ray had 431 passing yards and three TDs last week, MOP numbers, but more importantly he now rolls into the final four games determined to help Toronto seize the division and a bye into the East final.
"We have lots of guys back now, and young guys are more comfortable," said Ray, always more comfortable sharing around the credit. "We're really finding our rhythm."