TORONTO — Quarterback Ricky Ray's illustrious CFL career started from humble beginnings.
Long before winning a record four Grey Cups, Ray worked as a delivery driver for Frito-Lay following his collegiate career at Sacramento State. That earned him the nickname "Frito Ray," when he attended the San Francisco 49ers camp in 2000 as an undrafted free agent.
On Tuesday, Ray and former Montreal linebacker Chip Cox were named for induction into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in their first years of eligibility. Also selected as players were kicker Paul McCallum, fullback Tim Tindale and two-way star Dick Thornton.
Former CFL head coach Dave Ritchie, longtime team executive Roy Shivers and Calgary Colts founder Keith Evans were named as builders. All will be inducted Sept. 16 at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton.
"It's been a long journey for me, just coming out of Sacramento State and really thinking my football career was over and working a real job delivering chips," Ray said. "I never would've dreamt of this.
"Growing up, sports was a big part of my life, watching countless games and then going out in the yard and trying to re-enact those games and playing with my friends. You definitely know what the Hall of Fame is all about . . . and you wish one day you get to have that feeling."
Ray, 42, started 219-of-235 career regular-season games and 14 playoff contests over 16 CFL seasons with Edmonton and Toronto. He began his Canadian tenure fourth on Edmonton's depth chart in 2002 before becoming the starter and guiding the franchise to a Grey Cup berth, losing 25-16 to Montreal at Commonwealth Stadium.
Ray helped Edmonton avenge that loss, defeating Montreal 34-22 in the '03 CFL championship. It was the first of Ray's CFL record four Grey Cup victories as a starter.
Edmonton dealt Ray to Toronto in December 2011. He led the Argos to Grey Cups in 2012 and '17 but injuries late in his career, including a neck ailment in 2018, forced him to retire before the '19 campaign.
"My view is still it was probably a good thing for myself and Edmonton," Ray said of the trade. "I kind of feel like it was a new start to my career . . . when you talk about the CFL and look at the history and championships, Edmonton and Toronto are the two teams at the top of that list and winning a championship with each organization, obviously, is something I'm really proud of.
"That (injuries) is what really took me out of the game, I just couldn't play a full season anymore. It was an easy decision for me. Once I got that last injury I knew I was done."
Upon retirement, Ray left the door open to becoming a coach. He said that could still happen, but likely after his two young daughters are older because of the demands of that profession.
"I miss the game, I miss competing, I miss being in the locker room," he said. "It would be fun to kind of go at it from a coach's perspective, I feel like I could help players out and know what they're going through. It's just all going to depend on how I'm feeling and where I'm at over the next few years."
Cox, 38, of Columbus, Ohio, appeared in 228 career regular-season games with Montreal (2006-2018). The five-foot-nine, 185-pound Cox began as a defensive back before moving to linebacker, finishing with 979 career tackles (fourth all-time), 23 interceptions and eight defensive touchdowns.
The CFL's top defensive player in 2013 and a four-time league all-star, Cox also holds the league record for fumble-return yards (392).
"It says a lot," Cox said of being a first-ballot inductee. "I'm a guy who didn't start until my senior year of high school, I was never all-conference in college (Ohio) but I kept going, I kept driving.
"Even in Montreal, not being named rookie of the year didn't deter me. I always worked like my spot was going to be taken, like I was trying to take someone's spot. This validates all that. You've done all this and now you've been rewarded."
Cox had the rare distinction of playing his entire pro career with one organization. Cox heeded advice given to him by former Alouettes defensive co-ordinator Chris Jones, now Edmonton's head coach/GM.
"At the end of my rookie year, Chris Jones said, 'Listen, you're going to get a lot of opportunities but don't miss this opportunity you have here,'" said Cox, who's now working to become a Columbus police officer. "That resonated with me throughout my career . . . that's why I stayed in the CFL for so long because it was never really worth it for me to go to the NFL.
"Obviously I could've gambled and taken a chance on myself but when you have something good, why let it go? I got married during the time I was in Montreal, I had my kids while I was in Montreal. I made many life decisions as far as being an adult during my time in Montreal."
Tindale, 51, won the Hec Crighton Trophy (1991, '93) as Canadian university football's top player while at Western Ontario. There could've been a third had the burly fullback not suffered a leg injury in 1992.
The five-foot-10, 220-pound London, Ont., native ran for 2,554 career yards (7.9-yard average) and 36 TDs with Western before cracking Buffalo's roster as an undrafted free agent. Tindale played 37 games with Buffalo (1994-97) and had a 44-yard TD run in the Bills' 37-22 playoff win over Miami on Dec. 30, 1995.
Tindale spent his final NFL season with Chicago before injuries forced him to retire.
"I didn't think I was even eligible for the Canadian Football Hall of Fame so it kind of caught me off guard," Tindale said. "But I was aware Marv Levy (former Bills head coach) was going in this year so that's quite special.
"To be included with the likes of him is amazing."
Levy, 96, won two Grey Cups as Montreal's head coach (1973-77) and was enshrined Friday as a builder in the 2021 class. The '20 and '21 inductees were honoured together after the global pandemic forced the Canadian Football Hall of Fame to postpone each ceremony.
"Tim beat the odds," Levy said of Tindale. "He was unusually tough.
"He and (former linebacker) Chris Spielman were the two toughest guys on our football team. They're guys who surprised you."
Added Tindale: "My first day at my first mini-camp at Rich Stadium I was on to the field getting ready and Marv came up to me. He knew my name, my hometown, the school I went to. It was a huge thing to have somebody like that walk up to an unknown player who'd signed as an undrafted free agent."
McCallum, 52, played 24 CFL seasons with B.C., Ottawa and Saskatchewan. The Vancouver native did all three kicking jobs (field goals, punt, kickoffs) and remains the CFL's second-leading scorer with 3,145 points.
A two-time Grey Cup champion, McCallum made 722 career field goals (80.2 per cent), including a 62-yard boot in 2001 with Saskatchewan that remains the longest in CFL history. He also holds the league mark for consecutive converts (801).
Thornton, who died in 2014 at age 75, played receiver, quarterback, running back, punter and defensive back over 12 CFL seasons with Winnipeg and Toronto. He scored 18 touchdowns four different ways (rushing, receiving, interception return and fumble return) and also had five TD passes.
Thornton helped Winnipeg win the '62 Grey Cup. He had 43 career interceptions, returning eight for TDs.
Ritchie, 83, of New Bedford, Mass., spent 11 of his 22 CFL seasons as a head coach with B.C. (1993-95), Montreal (1997-98) and Winnipeg (1999-04). He won 108-of-187 career regular-season games to stand seventh all-time.
Ritchie captured a Grey Cup as B.C.'s head coach (1994) and two as an assistant with Winnipeg (1990) and the Lions (2006).
Shivers, 80, of Halley, Ark., spent 32 years in the CFL, mostly in prominent front-office positions. He spent eight seasons as a GM with Birmingham (1995) and Saskatchewan (2000-06).
The first Black GM in pro football history, Shivers won Grey Cups with B.C. (1985, 2011) and Calgary (1992, 1998).
Evans will also be inducted posthumously. He founded the Canadian Junior Football League's Calgary Colts in 1965 and was its GM from 1969 to 2019.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 21, 2022.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press