EDMONTON - It says a lot about Ricky Ray’s return that the one-time Eskimos quarterback equated the experience with that of a Grey Cup backdrop.
The stakes, naturally, won’t be as high Saturday night, but the emotions will be more akin to a big-time kickoff that a normal season-opening affair.
In oil country, Ray became the face of Edmonton football, a player who did just as much off the field as he did on it in leading the franchise to two championships.
It’s Ray day on Saturday, a time of reflection and second-guessing, a time of nostalgia and a time to see just how far the Ray-led Argos offence must travel to be considered Grey Cup-worthy.
In Edmonton, a lot has been made and a lot will be made of Ray’s legacy and the reasons behind the off-season trade.
In Toronto, it’s of little concern when there’s so much that needs to be done for the Argos to restore any semblance of relevancy in a market that’s as fickle as it can get when dealing with three-down football.
From a purely football point of view, which, in the end, is all that matters, no one knows for sure how much Ray has grasped offensively, how good or bad Toronto’s offensive line can be and the depth at the receiver position.
Of course Ray, who met a media gathering worthy of Grey Cup status on Friday, acknowledged how shocked he was when Edmonton Kavis Reed called to inform Ray of the trade to Toronto.
It goes without saying that Ray envisioned a career that involved one team, a day when he would one day join some of the Eskimos greats on the wall of honour, a tribute that may await one day, and how different this whole week has been knowing his first game as an Argo would be against the only CFL team he has known.
But this is football and Ray is being paid a lot to deliver and Saturday night provides a glimpse on what these Argos may eventually become.
For now, or at least until proven otherwise, the Argos are this great unknown, a team with no identity featuring a legitimate quarterback whose only identity has been as an Eskimo.
“There are a lot of unknowns,’’ Ray conceded.
As visitors, the Argos have decided to introduce the team’s offence Saturday night.
As offensive captain, Ray will be one of three players walking to midfield for the coin toss.
No one is expecting Ray to be booed, but even he admits the fans aren’t about to cheer any completed pass or touchdown.
“The fans here don’t owe my anything,’’ he said. “I owe so much to them and they can do what they want to me. I’m coming into their stadium and I’m expecting the worst from them.”
Depending on how the game gets played out, the biggest boos may be reserved for Edmonton GM Eric Tillman, whose decision, ultimately, it was to trade Ray, followed closely by Steven Jyles, who ended last season as Toronto’s starter only to find himself as the 2012 season-opening starter in Edmonton.
“You feel that they (Eskimos) didn’t believe in you anymore, but that’s human nature,’’ Ray said when recalling his emotions the day he was notified of his trade.
“It hurts you a little bit. Then you realize it’s part of the business. As the off-season went on I kept telling myself how lucky I was to be in one place so long.”
Given his familiarity with Commonwealth Stadium, Ray won’t feel out of place, even though he’s no longer a member of the home team.
What he’s not familiar with is Toronto’s offence, which is basically a carbon copy of the Montreal offence Scott Milanovich was first introduced when he joined the Als.
Needless to say, Milanovich has added his own wrinkles, but it’s an offence that asks the quarterback to make quicks reads and deliver the ball just as quick.
Like the Als, the Argos are going with an all-Canadian offensive line, but there’s no Jamel Richardson, Anthony Calvillo’s go-to target in Montreal, or a Fred Stamps, Ray’s favourite receiver in Edmonton.
Jason Barnes is being viewed by the Argos as that potential go-to guy, but he is unproven.
Ray spoke with Calvillo about the offence and began to realize what the Als QB meant only once he began to run the system.
“A.C. mentioned how he had never studied more and what he told me was right,’’ said Ray. “It’s pretty much the Als offence, detailed-oriented and a lot of multiplicity in formations, motion and personnel groupings.
“There’s a lot on the plate and I’ve never studied more.”
If you’re an Argo, you’re hoping Ray is a quick learner.
Embracing emotions and recalling good times, while uplifting, is of little consequence Saturday night.
The Ray era in Argoland officially begins.