Ray is CFL's only hope

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:00 AM ET

VANCOUVER -- Ricky Ray has a chance to save the Grey Cup from being a potential embarrassment for the Canadian Football League.

All he has to do today is finish what he starts.

All he has to do is keep Jason Maas, property of the Edmonton Eskimos and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, depending on your time frame, off the field.

All he has to do is what he hasn't been able to do in two previous playoff games for the Eskimos.

The controversy of the 93rd Grey Cup will not disappear easily. This is a quarterbacking controversy unlike any before it. This isn't about whether Ray or Maas should start -- which by itself is a decent argument -- it's about whether a player already traded away should, in fact, be participating in a game of this magnitude.

This is the strange position Ray finds himself in on Grey Cup Sunday. He and Jason Maas are good friends, not the kind of phony friends quarterbacks often claim to be.

He knows that both want to play quarterback. He knows that both deserve to be starting quarterbacks in the CFL. It just can't happen on the same team. Which is why Edmonton made the deal for running back Troy Davis.

They did it for themselves and did it for Maas and did it to so they have their cake this season and eat it, too.

"I want to be the guy," said Ray, who has played three years in the CFL and been to three Grey Cups with the Eskimos. He may not throw the ball the way Danny McManus does or move like a Damon Allen or create offence the way an Anthony Calvillo does. All he happens to do -- until the recent flip flops -- is win.

"We're like a baseball team," said Dahrran Diedrick, the Scarborough kid who plays running back for the Eskimos. "We've got a starter and a closer. And it works for us."

Only no one wants to see it work that way today.

"I want to start and I want to finish," said Ray, primed to play the Montreal Alouettes. "You don't want to go out there second-guessing yourself. I know there's a lot of people second-guessing me now. I've heard about the criticism because I get asked about it a lot.

"It's not my job to play a quarter or two. I can't be satisfied with that. I want to play. I know I've been a little down after the last two games. I was really disappointed after the last game (the West final). I was disappointed in myself."

That's where Maas got the call, both in Calgary in the playoff opener and last Sunday here in Vancouver in the West final. Ray didn't throw a touchdown pass in either game. Maas completed almost 80% of his passes, bringing the Eskimos from behind in both of their playoff victories.

Now all eyes are on Maas, not because he used to be the starter, not because he's the reason the Eskimos still are alive, not because of his good looks. But because of the questionable deal between Hamilton and Edmonton that now has been confirmed by numerous sources.

A deal the league would like to run far away from as it has brought the integrity of these playoffs into the wrong kind of light.

Ray has a chance to clean up a mess he had nothing to do with making. All he has to do is his job. When he was cut in the off-season by the New York Jets, he had chances to sign in other cities. The Argos talked to him, but backed off at the last minute. Other teams made offers. Ray chose Edmonton.

"It was where I felt most comfortable," he said. He chose Edmonton knowing that Jason Maas was the starting quarterback before he played his first two years with the Eskimos and was the starting quarterback in the year he left for the NFL. Twice, Maas has been the Eskimos nominee for most outstanding player.

Ricky Ray just never thought it would turn out to be this complicated.

There is a football game to be played today, but in a way more is at stake than even that. Ray doesn't deserve to be put in the position of saviour -- not for his own team, not for the league.


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