June 30, 2012
It's Ray Day!
By TERRY JONES, QMI Agency
EDMONTON - Ray Day! Ray Day! Ray Day!
It was like a claxson horn had sounded, a fire bell had rung or an air raid siren screamed.
Ricky Ray arrived by cab to the concourse of Commonwealth Stadium Friday and suddenly cameramen were spilling out of the media centre, tripping over each other, to record the moment.
It was thus as Ray began the first duties of the road trip he dreaded.
But first up for the media were the coaches as Ray and former Eskimo receiver Jason Barnes climbed out of the cab and headed down to the visitors dressing room.
Eskimos coach Kavis Reed, in his turn at the podium, urged fans for tonight’s 5 p.m. Eskimos home opener against Toronto Argos to get on their feet and pay him off for his nine years here.
“I, as a coach, hope and pray Ricky gets a standing ovation. He deserves that for what he’s done for this franchise and community.”
Gene Principe of Rogers Sportsnet used the occasion, with Ray on the property, to ask a well-phrased question which effectively put Reed on the spot to answer, for once and for all, if it were his call, and not GM Eric Tillman’s, if would he have traded Ray.
“You know, Gene, I love you,” laughed Reed.
“Ricky has been an absolute professional. His numbers speak for themselves. It’s no secret I loved working with Ricky. The decision was made to trade Ricky Ray and as the head coach it was my job to look at what we have.
“Do I have the utmost respect for Ricky? Did I love working with him? Absolutely. No question about it. But as a part of this franchise my job is to make certain that the most important aspect is what we have to work with and to put a competitive product on the field.
“So ... I did the politically correct thing and avoided your question,” said Reed.
Actually, coach, I believe that does answer it.
Reed also answered a question about Ray’s lack of mobility, one of the perceived reasons for Tillman trading him, which was eyebrow-raising.
“I think it’s under-rated. I think that’s one knock that a lot of people have given Ricky that really is unjustified. Ricky has good mobility but his penchant is being a pocket passer because he’s such an accurate quarterback. He can run when he has to. I anticipate the first play he’ll run tomorrow is to run with it himself because everybody said he can’t and that’s why we traded him.”
Argos rookie head coach Scott Milanovich was up to the occasion as well, especially when he talked about the day he found out he was getting Ray.
“I was a little surprised, yes. I knew we were talking, so I knew there was a chance. Jim (general manager Barker) asked if I was interested. I said, uh, yeah.
“It was a good day. My wife was there when I got the call and she can testify that I was very pleased, very excited.”
Milanovich said he’s been monitoring Ray in the days leading up to the game.
“I didn’t really see anything until the last day or so. He’s just been locked in. The last couple of days, spending time with him, I’ve seen a couple of things. There’s emotions there. He understands the situation and you guys aren’t going to let him forget about the situation that he’s going to walk into. But he’s a veteran, he’s a great guy and he’s going to handle it with class.”
He said Ray’s new team-mates have been gearing him.
“The guys teach him about this and that. Pre (Noel Prefontaine) says ‘I was in Edmonton, too, and nobody seems to care that I’m going back to Edmonton. They’re kind of busting his chops a little bit and he’s taking it well.”
Milanovich says he’s been more than impressed.
“He’s everything that I thought he’d be and probably a little more. He’s more accurate than I even thought he would be. And his technique is so good.
“He’s as coachable as the come, very much like the guy I coached last year,” said the former offensive coordinator of the Montreal Alouettes working with Anthony Calvillo.
“He’s a pleasure to be around, he really is. He’s our captain. He’s our leader.
“As he plays well, our team is going to play well. But he needs to know this isn’t his game to win or lose. It’s our team’s game to win or lose. He’s not in this game by himself. I think our players are going to respond to that. They know what he’s going through right now.”
And what has Ray identified in terms of what he’s going through as gets to game day?
“Well, it feels different than a regular regular season game because there’s extra media and the emotions you’re going through.
“To me, the only thing I can kind of relate it to is a Grey Cup game where you kind of have the extra feelings you are going through. With the media and all the emotions and stuff, you just have to try to calm yourself down the best you can.
“It’s a little bit weird. definitely different coming in here again, especially seeing everybody again for the first time,” he said of the Eskimos staff and players who were still there following the Edmonton practice.
Ray admitted to shock, hurt and anger in an exclusive interview on these pages to lead off the week. Yesterday he added to something else.
“I wish I could have finished here. This is where I wanted to be. I think that’s every athletes dream, to stay in one place and not go anywhere else. Not too many guys get to live that dream.”
Asked about going to Toronto and finding himself in a similar situation to several of his more recent seasons in Edmonton, with major questions about the offensive line and the depth and qualities of his receivers, Ray acknowledged there might be something to that without being specific.
“There’s a lot of question marks with this team just because we’ve made so many changes over the off-season. We don’t have any experience together, really.
“That’s the one thing we’re lacking together as a team is that on-field experience together, so there’s going to be a lot of question marks for us. We need to go out there together and try and develop that rhythm together as quick as we can and find our identity, I guess.”
Ray is on the cover of the freshly printed Argos media guide and, while he looks forward to getting past this game and moving on with the rest of the season, there’s plenty of adjustment ahead of him as the absolute face of the franchise shouldering all the expectations of the host city of the 100th Grey Cup game.
Ray said Edmonton provided pretty good preparation for dealing with that.
“Expectations are pretty high here, so you get used to kind of feeling that pressure. And I’ve been fortunate enough to be on two teams that have been the host city here in 2002 and a couple of years ago. One year we made it to the Grey Cup and one year we missed the playoffs, so I just kind of go off that experience.
“I look at it as more of an opportunity than extra pressure. You get the opportunity, if you make it to the Grey Cup, to play that game at home.
So, what kind of reception does Ray expect from the Edmonton fans?
“I'm expecting boos," said Ray. “The fans here don't owe me anything. I had so much fun here. It's a great city. The team has so much history and tradition. They can do whatever they like to me."
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