It's hard to imagine a more potentially-perfect way for Argonauts' quarterback Ricky Ray to start the 2012 CFL season. The one-time face of the Edmonton Eskimos was shipped off to Toronto for a bag of footballs (well, technically, quarterback Steven Jyles, kicker Grant Shaw and a draft pick were involved too, but sources report the footballs were the clincher) this offseason despite a tremendous 2011 campaign, and although Ray seems excited about his new team, you know he'd love a chance to prove that Edmonton general manager Eric Tillman's methods are unsound in Saturday's clash against the Eskimos (7 p.m. Eastern, TSN). There's lots on the line for Tillman, Jyles and the Eskimos, too, as they'll be out to show that this team's fine without their former quarterback and that the decision to dump him for salary-cap relief was the right one, but it's Ray's homecoming to the city he starred in for so long and the team he won two Grey Cups with that might be the most intriguing storyline Saturday night. As Frank Zicarelli of The Toronto Sun writes, although he says he's moved on, Ray still seems to be carrying a bit of a chip on his shoulder from the trade:
"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."
It's not hard to see why Ray would be upset. After a lacklustre 2010 campaign (3,565 passing yards, 64.4 per cent completion rate, 11 touchdowns and 17 interceptions) that saw the Eskimos slump to the West Division basement with a 7-11 record, there were questions about if he was past his best-before date. Ray answered all of those questions with an amazing 2011 campaign, throwing for 4,594 yards (third in the league) with a 65.2 per cent completion rate, collecting 24 touchdowns to 11 interceptions and putting up a league-high quarterback rating of 99.3. It wasn't as if he found only individual success, either; he also was a crucial factor in the Eskimos' turnaround from cellar-dwellers to West Division finalists. After all of that, Edmonton decided that a man who had done so much for their franchise was expendable.
For Ray and the Argonauts, this represents a superb chance to get their high-stakes 2012 campaign for the CFL's Holy Grail off on the right foot. It's not guaranteed they will, though; there are questions about the offensive line and the receiving corps, which looks somewhat suspect beyond Chad Owens and Ray's former Eskimos' teammate Jason Barnes, and Ray's preseason performances suggested that he may not have fully picked up new head coach Scott Milanovich's system just yet. Moreover, this game won't in and of itself determine if the trade worked or not; even if Ray struggles here, he may still lead the Argonauts to glory, and even if the Eskimos come out on the worst side of this contest, it's how they do down the road that matters more. It provides Ray with an outstanding opportunity to prove his doubters wrong, though, and that should make it a fascinating contest.