Toronto Argonauts stole this Grey Cup last year
The 'Alberta Advantage?' Try saying that after Argos' heist of Ricky Ray from Edmonton, Chris Jones from Calgary
TORONTO — Evidently, crime does pay.
The Toronto Argonauts’ daylight robbery of the Edmonton Eskimos last December netted a gold mine in quarterback Ricky Ray, and almost simultaneously they lifted defensive co-ordinator Chris Jones out of Cowtown by hook and by crook -- and Sunday, guess whose fingerprints were all over the Argos’ dismantling of the Calgary Stampeders in the 100th Grey Cup?
So much for the Alberta Advantage.
Ray, who’s about the coolest customer in the room most every time he suits up -- and especially, it seems, on the big stage -- shrugged off an interception on the first offensive play of the game, threw for 232 yards and two touchdowns, and Jones’s bruising defence stifled running back Jon Cornish and almost all of Kevin Glenn’s other weapons en route to Toronto’s 35-22 derailing of the favoured Stamps.
That No. 44 guy wasn’t too bad, either: Argo bowling ball Chad Kackert ripped and rammed his way for 195 yards, rushing and receiving, and his selection as the game’s outstanding player was a tribute to the welts he raised on the Calgary tacklers he steamrolled.
But Ray was the story coming in -- to the season, and to the Grey Cup -- and he was the story going out. A 33-year-old, through-and-through professional, illogically deemed expendable in Edmonton, doing exactly what he was acquired to do: lead the chronically unloved Boatmen to a hometown Grey Cup at the end of the biggest, costliest buildup and celebration in the history of the Canadian Football League.
If the Argos can’t build some momentum in Toronto after the jump-start they’ve received this season -- a lot of it revolving around the quarterback that made them complete -- and especially this week, they may have to abandon ship.
But GM Jim Barker, who may have saved his job with the Ray trade even as it contributed to Eskimos’ Eric Tillman losing his, doesn’t see these Argos being a one-and-done deal.
“Oh, we’ll compete every year, there’s no doubt in my mind,” he said. “That game against Montreal (the Eastern final) showed we’re ready to take over now.”
Ray has a year left on his contract, but he’s not the itinerant type. Surrounded here by a strong cast and a stern defence, he should be able to wring a few more years out of that old-school body and unpreposessing style.
“It’s been unbelievable. Just coming to a new team at this point in my career after being in one place so long, and being a part of a team that wants you to be here, and believes in you,” said Ray.
“But to tell you that I even had this in my mind when I was first traded here, I didn’t. I was trying to come here and help this team any way I could. But looking back ... what a special year.”
He’s no gazelle, but Sunday, he deftly stepped around blitzing Calgary defenders a couple of times in that vital first half -- notably dodging inside the rush to hit Jason Barnes for a 62-yard strike, the longest Grey Cup completion os Ray’s career and one of several big plays given up by a Calgary defence that seemed to bear no relation to the one that upset the B.C. Lions a week ago.
“It was just a tough game to get into a rhythm,” said Ray. “I mean, man, it was the longest game I’ve ever played in my life, with pregame and halftime, and not being able to get into that normal flow of a game that we usually do. But we were able to make enough plays and score enough points to get this win.
“The defence played awesome today, they dominated the game. Really, we didn’t have to play with a lot of pressure on us tonight, offensively. We had a lead the whole game, and they were doing such a good job of limiting them to field goals, we felt we could just stick with our game plan and stay patient out there.”
The Calgary offence, which had opened up such enormous holes in the Lions’ secondary, had no such luck against the Argos until late in the game. Toronto scored its first two touchdowns off Calgary turnovers -- a Cornish-Glenn fumble that led to Ray’s first TD throw, a five-yarder to CFL MVP Chad Owens, and horrible pass by Glenn that was picked off and returned for a 25-yard touchdown by Pacino Horne.
“We weren’t able to take advantage of their turnovers. Early in the game after the interception we got nothing and they were able to score two touchdowns on our turnovers,” said Stamps coach John Hufnagel. “We had to settle for field goals and when you do that it’s tough. Especially when you’re behind. That’s probably the underlying theme of the game for us is we had to put the ball in the endzone and didn’t when we had the opportunity.”
The Argonauts took control of the game with a 17-point second quarter, led 24-6 at the half, and after an interminable intermission, nursed it home from there, taking few risks, continuing to pound Cornish and the Stampeders at every opportunity.
Ray, who threw a late TD pass, another short one, to Andre Durie, had no big mistakes, and simply lent an air of calm to what easily could have been an overwhelming atmosphere, with a hugely pro-Toronto crowd of 53,208 at jam-packed Rogers Centre making enough noise to shake dust from the rafters that has probably been there since Joe Carter touched ‘em all to end the ’93 World Series.
It was Ray’s third Grey Cup triumph in four tries -- following victories with Edmonton in 2003 and 2005 -- and the Argos’ 16th title, their first since 2004. They have gone 5-0 in championship games since losing to Edmonton in 1987.
“We’re not up on that stage without him,” said Toronto’s rookie head coach, Scott Milanovich.
It was down beside the stage, with confetti all around him, that Ray stood holding his 20-month-old daughter Chloe, adorned in a hand-knitted blue tasseled touque, and trying to take it all in: What this Argonaut team had achieved, and the occasion it represents in the league’s annals.
“This is why you play,” he said. “Everyone was just trying to build something here. It just makes you feel so good.”
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