Sometimes, sports are unfair.
Ricky Ray, arguably the greatest quarterback in CFL history, suffered a brutal neck injury during the Toronto Argonaut’s game last Saturday against the Calgary Stampeders.
After a twenty-minute delay that saw both sides show a tremendous amount of concern, he was carted off and taken to hospital, where he stayed until Monday.
Despite the Argonauts choice to defer commenting at this time, reports are already beginning to surface that Ricky Ray is done for the season.
TSN’s Dave Naylor reported that doctors advised Ray to not return this season, and as Ray isn’t getting any younger (he would be 39 next season), it stands to reason that the man who has exemplified winning for a generation of fans would call it a career.
And what a career it was.
Ray enjoyed two stints with the Edmonton Eskimos, separated only by a brief attempt to make it south of the border with the New York Jets. His nine seasons with the Edmonton Eskimos saw him play in three Grey Cups, ironically all against the Montreal Alouettes and Ray’s greatest rival, Anthony Calvillo. Ray and the Eskimos won twice, in 2003 and 2005, solidifying him as one of the league’s best players well before the age of thirty.
While his time with the Eskimos will be how many remember the quarterback from Happy Camp, California, it is the second phase of his career that established him as an all-time great.
Ray was traded to the Toronto Argonauts in 2012, and promptly led the Argo’s to a memorable victory in the 100thGrey Cup, played at home in Toronto. Two more All-Star years would follow, a rarity when one considers how small the nine-team CFL is…only one player gets selected per position. He spent six full seasons with the Argos, becoming their all-time leading passer.
Ray finished off his Argo tenure with another Grey Cup in 2017, putting himself in rare air in Canadian Football League history.
Despite many individuals having the same (or more) Grey Cup wins, (the 70’s-80’s Eskimos did win five in a row, after all), Ricky Ray is the only man to win four Grey Cups as a starter. That puts him ahead of the likes of Flutie, Calvillo, Allen, and Moon, a who’s who of CFL quarterbacks.
In many ways, Ricky Ray was the Tom Brady to Anthony Calvillo’s Peyton Manning. While Anthony Calvillo claimed the all-time passing yards, touchdowns, and completion awards (like Manning), Ray claimed the most championships and finished in the top five of all those categories. It is the age-old question that has interested sports fans for decades. Do the rings matter more than the numbers? If so, Ricky Ray is the greatest CFL quarterback of all time.
Ray has the highest completion percentage in a single game in CFL history, the highest completion percentage in a season, and the highest passer rating in a single season. His 325 Touchdowns put him fifth all time, while his 60 429 passing yards are good enough for fourth. He is third in completions and is the all-time passing leader for two of the nine CFL franchises.
Ricky Ray has nothing to prove to anyone, and if the injury is as severe as the doctors seem to believe, he is completely in his right to not return. We tend to glorify the CFL here in Canada, without realizing how little these players make compared to the NFL.
Yes, the days of CFL players needing a job in the off season are thankfully long gone, and the league minimum is growing each year, but the 400-450 thousand dollars that Ricky Ray has been making a year as the starter in the CFL is about half as much as Auston Matthews currently makes on his entry-level rookie deal in the NHL. Ricky Ray has lived comfortably…but not to the point where his children will never have to work.
He is one of the most liked players in the game, and can easily make the transition into covering the game that he has perfected for so long. He can sign with TSN at the national level, or locally in Edmonton or Toronto and earn a respectable salary without putting his body on the line.
I hope we’ve seen the last of Ricky Ray on the field, even if that means the final memory is the scary stretcher incident. We are mere months removed from his final Grey Cup triumph, and that will remain the final memory for most people who do not follow the game as vigorously as sports writers. As I have written before, we rarely get to choose when we walk away. Many of the all-time greats; the likes of Muhammad Ali, Martin Brodeur, Kobe Bryant, and Usain Bolt, hung on a few years too long when they could have exited on top.
Ray is the reigning Grey Cup champion.
There is no better time to leave.
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Alex Taylor is a graduate of McMaster University, with degrees in Anthropology and History, and a minor in classics. Alex currently attends Sheridan College, where he is working on a Journalism diploma.
Alex is also a novel writer, having written a manuscript, and he is currently working on another (fiction)
Alex Taylor writes more frequently on his website, TheFanLife.net
Alex has also written a published paper while attending McMaster University: an academic journal piece on the depictions of aging in the media.
And avid sports fan, Alex Taylor will be starting a podcast soon (titled thefanlife. It will be on Soundcloud).