EDMONTON - Ricky Ray surveyed the scene in Rogers Centre Wednesday.
“This is definitely the most media we’ve had at a practice all year,” said the Toronto Argos quarterback of what would be a normal gathering in Edmonton most days during the season.
Sitting down for a one-on-one chat after doing a media scrum with a gathering of a dozen, it was suggested to Ray that maybe he felt a bit this season like Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall, the Edmonton Oilers who have felt like they’ve been placed in the witness protection program playing in Oklahoma City during the NHL lockout where almost nobody ever recognizes them.
“No,” he said. “But I definitely do get recognized less here than in Edmonton.
“That’s good and bad,” he added.
Indeed, Ray says that it’s a very good when you’re playing for a team trying to get into the 100th Grey Cup game being held in your own stadium.
Ray knows about the horrid history in the league over the years of teams trying to get to the game with the noose around their neck tightening every week until they gag on a playoff game.
While the B.C. Lions finally did it last year (after beating the Eskimos in the Western Final) there have been a lot of wrecks on the road to Grey Cup hostings.
“Being in the West, you’re constantly hounded about it,” he said of daily reminders that the Grey Cup is about to be held in your city.
Here, despite the fact it’s the 100th, not so much.
“In Edmonton, you’re pretty much downtown. Here we’re normally out in Mississauga,” he said of where the Argos practice and where he also lives with wife Allyson and one-year-old daughter Chloe Samantha.
“That part has been good. We haven’t heard every day about the Grey Cup being here.”
What Ray is hearing about every day again is being traded away from the Eskimos to the Argos, now that he finds himself playing them again in a playoff game.
Ray admitted he told Eskimo equipment man Dwayne Mandrusiak how much difficulty he had playing the two regular season games against Edmonton, making the Argos the only team which hasn’t beat the 7-11 Eskimos all season.
“Sometimes you get caught up playing for other reasons with other motivation,” he said.
Ray said it may be a unique sort of situation with the Eskimos playing the Argos in an Eastern crossover game, especially with the build-up to the week beginning with the Eskimos firing Eric Tillman, the GM who traded him here (and no, he has no comment on that for public consumption).
“But it’s totally different than it was at the start of the year, when we played our first game in Edmonton. There was a six-month lead up to that.”
Argos head coach Scott Milanovich suggests Ray put the Eskimos in his rear-view mirror after playing poorly against Edmonton here Aug. 27.
“Ricky hasn’t played poorly since then,” he said.
“Ricky is playing with confidence. The team is playing with confidence. And I think that’s what they’re going to carry into this game.”
Milanovich says there’s been so much more involved here than changing from green and gold to double blue.
“It’s a process that goes in to learning a new system and new players and all those things. It’s taken time. But he’s playing great now.”
“Jason Barnes and I had a history together and we didn’t really get it together until the end of the year. I didn’t know what to expect with any of my receivers.”
Barnes said there have been changes with Ray this year.
“I think Ricky has become a more vocal quarterback here,” said the ex-Eskimos receiver, who became a familiar face for him to throw to here this year, along with ex-Esk Mo Mann.
“In Edmonton he was quiet and didn’t have much to say, although last year in Edmonton he started to speak up a little more.”
Ray said Barnes is probably right about that.
“As long as he’s not talking about volume. You’ll have to wait a long time to see me become a guy breaking down the huddle getting guys pumped up.
“Last year, under Marcus Crandell as offensive co-ordinator in Edmonton, I was much more vocal in meetings because that was kinda his style.”
This year Ray has his old Eskimos’ back-up Jason Maas as his quarterback coach. And that’s helped, he said.
“The best thing about Jason is that he’ll tell you what he thinks,” said Ray.
“If you’re bad, he’ll tell you.
“It’s the first time I’ve had a coach I could say anything to honestly. It’s like tough love. And Jason will really listen you what you say.”
Neither Maas or Ray are paying much notice to the Edmonton elephant in the big room at 1 Blue Jay Way.
And head coach Milanovich says he’s not going to insult Ray by even mentioning the idea of focusing on the game, not on the team he’s playing it against.
Ray says the storyline is obvious as it was going into the season.
“I’m playing my old team. I know a lot of guys over there. But it’s the playoffs. You have to play your best games in the playoffs. There’s a challenge for us offensively to keep the momentum we’ve created going these last few weeks going and carry it on. I’m motivated to get the Grey Cup.
“We’ve got the opportunity to win the Grey Cup at home, that’s pretty special,” said Ray, who made it to the 2002 Grey Cup game in Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton but lost to the Montreal Alouettes.
“Shoot, I haven’t won a Grey Cup since 2005. That’s six seasons and this would be seven years.
“When you play this position, that’s what you’re judged on. For sure I want to win the Grey Cup this year. And hopefully a few more.”
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