Ricky Ray all the way

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:11 AM ET

The voice boomed down from a fan hanging off one of the three levels of balconies as the Pedway Parade made its way toward the stage.

"Ricky Ray all the way!"

Two years ago, at the same time and same place, it was "Ricky Ray, please stay."

The parade followed the usual route to the usual celebration spot for the scene, which was the same but different.

This year it was retiring veteran Chris Morris carrying the Cup. This year the Eskimos cheer squad was holding Mayor Steven Mandel in the sky instead of a cheerleader.

This year they chanted "Jason! Jason! Jason!" for Jason Maas, the soon-to-be Hamilton Tiger-Cat quarterback. This year they were chanting "Tony! Tony! Tony!" for Grey Cup touchdown return man Tony Tompkins. And "Sean! Sean! Sean!" for the kicker they were booing at mid-season.

And this year they were chanting "MVP! MVP! MVP!" for Ricky Ray.

On this day two years ago, it was uncomfortable being the then Frito Ray, who had just taken the Eskimos to back-to-back Grey Cups, winning the second one.

"It was tough," said Ray of hearing CEO Hugh Campbell lead those "Ricky Ray, Please Stay" chants.

This year, despite getting an education about the fickle fan as he struggled down the stretch while still setting a CFL record for most completions, Ray came through in the big game again, setting a Grey Cup record for most completions.

"Hopefully we made you guys proud," he told the crowd. "It's a great feeling," he said when it was over and he'd felt the love again.

YEAR-ROUND RESIDENT

Ray is about to spend his first off-season as a year-round resident of the City of Champions. "I bought a home in St. Albert. Now it looks like I won't have to move out."

He'll be around all winter to enjoy this one instead of leaving 48 hours later.

"To win that game after that season, there's just more satisfaction in this," he said.

But as much as this was a better day for Ray every which way, it was a day which first and foremost belonged to Danny Maciocia.

The head coach who became one of only a select few to win the Grey Cup his first season, was paid off biggest and best, not just by the crowd but by his own players.

Everybody is always a hero at these sorts of celebrations. But how often does it happen that when the coach is introduced he receives a standing ovation not only from the fans but from his players?

Of anything that happened at the parade and rally in the afternoon or the one which followed on ice prior to the Oiler game (the Oilers always seem to schedule a Tuesday game for Grey Cup celebrations) that was the memory-maker.

GOING TO BREAK DOWN

Maciocia was worried he was going to break down as his players stood up and showed the town and the nation what they think of the Canadian, who never played football but went on to coach them to a Grey Cup in his first year out of the box.

"I had to look away," said Maciocia of the offence, wearing the new gold jerseys, and the defence wearing the traditional green. "They know how I feel about them."

Veteran Singor Mobley said it was spontaneous.

"He made it our team. He let us discipline our own. It was a big gesture ... He said 'I'm the head coach but this is your team.' That was our way of paying him off."

When it was over Maciocia took a deep breath.

"I've got goosebumps," he said when the media moved in. "I can be in front of 60,000 fans and don't notice that. But to be surrounded by this enthusiasm and happiness. It does something to you. I don't know how long it's going to take me to come down. I'm cherishing the moment."

A few minutes earlier he spoke to the fans.

"We've brought back the Grey Cup to the City of Champions - exactly where it belongs. There is no better city and no better venue than Commonwealth Stadium."

Campbell dedicated the Cup to the players who didn't get to play in the Grey Cup game. Maciocia dedicated the 13th Grey Cup to the 13th man, the Eskimo fan.

"In 2006 maybe we'll do this again!"


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