It’s a long way from last November.
A year ago at this time, the Argos had cleaned out their lockers, heading home after a year where they had missed the playoffs. The off-season had arrived early, with everyone knowing the potential for wide-sweeping change existed.
Even at quarterback.
Ricky Ray was a player that many fans wanted the Argos to move away from. There were the constant criticisms, he had no arm strength, he was old and he was injury prone. It was nothing personal mind you, even his detractors admitted he was a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer.
It was just time to move on.
Ray himself didn’t know what the future held. He quietly reached out to then Head Coach Scott Milanovich to let him know that playing in a 15th CFL season was something he wanted to do. Drew Willy was likely atop the depth chart, but Ray wanted a chance to compete for a job.
Things didn’t look all that rosy for Ray, but then a career-extending move happened. Milanovich joined the staff of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars and the Argos replaced him with Marc Trestman.
The two talked about the future and at the news conference where Trestman and General Manager Jim Popp were formally introduced, the new coach gave the thumbs up to the veteran quarterback, saying the starting job was his to lose.
So how did Ray respond? He led the Argos to first place in the East, completing arguably the best statistical season of his illustrious career.
The now 38-year old threw the ball 668 times, the second-highest total in his career. He completed 474 passes, five shy of his personal best and the third-most in CFL history.
His 28 TD passes were the second-best total of his career, throwing just 11 interceptions.
With 5,546 passing yards, he again finished with the second-highest total of his career.
Not bad for an old, injury-prone quarterback with no arm strength, eh?
Ray cringes when he’s asked to talk about his accomplishments, yet concedes he’s playing pretty well right now. When prompted to talk more in-depth about his own play for once, the quarterback said he couldn’t put up the stats he did this season without the work of his teammates.
“There is a difference,” Ray emphasized, stressing the ability of his receivers to make big plays on a regular basis. “When I throw a flat route sometimes it gets tackled for a five-yard gain. This year it seems like we’ve got guys that are giving the extra effort or making those easy plays and I didn’t really do anything different for those.”
“When you’re playing on a good team that’s executing really well,” explained Ray, “You get a lot of those hidden yards and plays from the guys that surround you.”
“Ya, I’ve got to play well and do my part,” Ray finally conceded, “But it’s also the guys that surround you that are making the stats what they are.”
One of those guys is Solomon Junior Green. Like Ray, the wide receiver is having the best season of his career. He finished with 104 receptions for 1,462 yards, surpassing his previous career bests by 17 catches and 265 yards. The chemistry between the pair was apparent from Day One, but the man simply known as S.J. was seemingly more impressed with the intangibles the QB possesses than the obvious amount of talent.
“Man, I wish I had one word to describe him,” Green told Argonauts.ca. “I’m just going to say he’s a warrior. He’s resilient, he’s consistent, he’s probably one of the best teammates I’ve ever had in regards to being a selfless player.”
I’ve never seen him point the finger at anybody for messing up,” continued the receiver. “He’s a great leader by example.”
The season the duo had was remarkable. Like Ray, a year ago Green was seemingly a write-off. He was rehabbing a badly injured knee, leaving many doubtful that he’d ever be the same player. Not only did he return this season, he posted his career highs at the age of 32, six years younger than his quarterback.
It shouldn’t surprise people that Ray – or any quarterback for that matter – is having success at this stage of his career. A year ago Henry Burris led the RedBlacks to the Grey Cup at the age of 41, while south of the border Tom Brady won a Super Bowl as a 39-year old.
Anthony Calvillo was also spectacular in the latter part of his career. From the age of 36 on, the former Montreal QB threw for no fewer than 4,639 yards in any of the final five years of his career – aside from his final year where he played just seven games – topping the 5,000-yard mark in three of those seasons.
Argo coach Mark Trestman was Calvillo’s coach for the quarterback’s final five full seasons in Montreal and isn’t surprised to see players at that position playing so well at, by football standards, such an advanced age.
“I don’t know whether there’s some kind of analytics involved in that,” said Trestman, noted for his work with players at that position. “I know that if you have an older player who takes care of himself and who has the emotional and mental and physical capabilities to do it, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be able to do it.”
“Quarterbacks are just taking better care of themselves,” continued the coach. “That’s why Anthony was able to play and in the last five years, he amped up his conditioning and training and eating and all the types of things that go into the residual effect of helping you stay healthy.”
But according to the coach, there’s more to it than just looking after yourself.
“The other side of it is that they just still have the passion to compete, even though they’ve had great success,” said Trestman. “They still have the passion, and in the quarterback’s case, the courage to stand in there and make plays because they are the only defenceless player on the field.”
With the final regular-season numbers in, the debate can begin on whether this has been the best season of #15’s career.
There are four years in contention. Here are the numbers for those seasons.
It would be very easy to make the case that 2017 is Ray’s best season, which is remarkable. A successful playoff run would make the regular-season success all the sweeter.