Hurray for Frito Ray

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:58 AM ET

Frito Ray is here to stay.

Ricky Ray is back, not just for a good time but for a long time.

In one single signing the Edmonton Eskimos have brought back the steak and the sizzle. Grey Cup fever may resume immediately.

After a year in which the Eskimos have made so many changes they appeared in definite danger of missing the playoffs for the first time in 34 years, Frito Ray is the chip which gives the flagship franchise a serious shot at winning the jackpot again. And make no mistake. The contract has Ray's signature on it, but the whole deal has Danny Maciocia's fingerprints on it. The move to hire Maciocia as head coach just paid off big time.

"It definitely played a part in it," said Ray, two hours before he was unveiled at a press conference yesterday as he met with Maciocia and Eskimos COO Rick LeLacheur to complete the four-year $400,000-a-year contract.

"I'm familiar with Danny. I'm familiar with a lot of the other players. I'm familiar with the city. Just looking at what was out there, this is the best place for me. It came down to where I thought I could be successful," added the quarterback who took the Eskimos to the Grey Cup in both his years in Edmonton and won it in his second season.

"I had a blast playing in Edmonton. I'm looking forward to being back," added the pivot who fell off a potato chip truck and in two years made himself such a big name he arguably comes back as the biggest name in the league. But it's Maciocia who made it a no-brainer for him.

WAITED 24 HOURS

"I waited 24 hours after he was put on waivers," said Ray's offensive co-ordinator and quarterback coach. "I didn't want to come off as opportunistic. We talked."

Not that long later, Ray called back.

"I was in Fort Lauderdale with my kids at a waterpark when my cellphone rang. He said 'It's Ricky!' "

His No. 1 quarterback was back. Maciocia says he was not surprised.

"Think about it," he said. "He spent two years in the CFL with one organization and both years he ended up in the Grey Cup game. He loves the city. He missed the city. In one year he went from hoisting the Grey Cup to not even holding a clip board.

"Once you've tasted it, it's not easy."

BIG FACTOR?

Maciocia doesn't like the idea of saying he was a big factor in Ray's decision.

"I think I played a role. Some people might say I played a significant role. Others might say not so significant. I don't know."

The new head coach says he doesn't expect Ray to have much rust. "I don't think so. All he needs to do is get back out there and get back in the groove," he added of Ray not taking a single snap in his year in the NFL with the New York Jets.

Ray didn't even ask about the offensive line. "I think we'll be pretty good up front."

And boy did they just get a lot better at backup quarterback. Maciocia says Jason Maas isn't going to be traded.

"Jason will not be going anywhere ... I thought he was our MVP last year considering the situation in which he played."

Khari Jones is a different deal. For the moment, the plan is still to bring him to camp and have him there through the pre-season just in case there's an injury. But it is highly unlikely he'll be carrying a clip board.

Maciocia says not so fast with the Grey Cup fever thing. "We still made a lot of changes. But this does put us in the position of being a contender. I don't think it puts us in the position of being the favourite."

The return of Ricky Ray is not just about football. It's about the business of football.

The Eskimos have sold their usual 25,000 season tickets. But his return has the potential to fill Commonwealth Stadium on a regular basis for the first time since Warren Moon was winning Grey Cups here.


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