THE CANADIAN PRESS
TORONTO -- Ricky Ray saw it coming out of training camp. These Toronto Argonauts had a special bond.
They might not have been the biggest, fastest or most heralded. But they had each other's back.
Ray, who came over from the Edmonton Eskimos in a blockbuster off-season trade, credits GM Jim Barker and rookie head coach Scott Milanovich for choosing the right pieces in assembling what was to become a Grey Cup champion squad.
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Headlines and Stats:
» View Game Stats
» Kackert named Most Valuable Player
» Foley named Most Valuable Canadian
» Landry: Owens outstanding despite injury
» Team first mentality leads Argos
» Horne's interception TD a game changer
» Rugged defence anchors Grey Cup win
» Clock strikes twelve on Glenn's GC bid
» Home soil gives Argos advantage
» Team-first mentality leads Argos to glory
» MMQB: Argos play smart, win big
» Preview: Calgary vs. Calgary
» 100th Grey Cup Centre
» Recap: Toronto 35, Calgary 22
» Owens Opens Scoring For Argos
» Pacino Horne's 25-Yard Pick Six
» Inman Strikes For Argos TD
» Durie Dives Into the Endzone
» Ricky Ray 1-on-1 Post-Game
» Chad Kackert 1-on-1 Post-Game
» Ricky Foley 1-on-1 Post-Game
» Chad Owens 1-on-1 Post-Game
» Ejiro Kuale 1-on-1 Post-Game
» Jordan Younger 1-on-1 Post-Game
» Stampeders Post-Game Reaction
» Milanovich's Post-Game Reaction
» Hufnagel's Post-Game Reaction
» John Hufnagel's Pre-Game Speech
» Scott Milanovich's Pre-Game Speech
» Grey Cup Halftime Show
» 100th Grey Cup Images
"Scott and the staff and Jim coming out of training camp didn't necessarily pick the best most talented guys,'' said the veteran quarterback. "They picked guys that were going to be good teammates over some of those guys.
"That's where it's got to start with, it's got to start with the locker-room and how everybody gets along and everybody playing for each other out there. I think that's been the biggest difference for us.''
Barker says he and Milanovich both believe "it's not necessarily the 46 best players but it's the best 46 players.''
"That means the 46 that can work together the best,'' the GM said in an interview Monday. "Through the year, we went through players and we did make different moves but it was about finding the right blend of players - of veterans and rookies.''
Milanovich referred to that brotherhood in his pre-game speech Sunday.
"Find strength in your teammates when things gets tough,'' he said.
An even-keeled coach who prepares meticulously, Milanovich laid out what was expected. Argos players knew they didn't have to worry about the changing moods of their head coach or jump through hoops, just execute what they were told.
Barker, meanwhile, said he knew upon acquiring Ray that this team could be special if they made the right moves around him.
"All along I felt we had a great opportunity this year,'' he said.
Every pro athlete has a history. And the Argonauts do not have a patent on hard-luck stories. But finding the diamonds in the rough remains a challenge.
"In this league, there's a lot of football players out there that have stories, there's reasons why they maybe aren't first-round picks in the NFL,'' said Barker. "Our job is to go out and uncover those and we go across the country looking for those kind of players.''
Giving them a home leads to ties that bind.
"Everybody on this team, you ask them, somewhere they had to overcome something to get to this point,'' Ray said prior to Toronto's 35-22 championship win over the Calgary Stampeders. "We're a family, we just came together, stuck together and just played great football.''
Ray noticed something special about his new teams from Day 1 at mini-camp.
"Everybody was 'Hey welcome back,' giving each other hugs whether you were on offence or defence or special teams,'' he recalled. "Lot of times when you play on teams, you kind of have the defensive guys and the offensive guys. And this team has been totally different, everybody gets along regardless of what side you're on and that's what you've got to have to be able to do things like this.''
Building the team took time. But the rewards for the investment in time and research were worth it.
Chad Owens had already found a home with the Argos, who have a history with pint-sized returner-receivers (Pinball Clemons). In 2012, he led the league in receiving, set a pro-football record for all-purpose yards, was named the league's Most Outstanding Player and scored the first touchdown in the Grey Cup.
In Ray, he had found his quarterback.
Defensive back Pacino Horne was out of football for two years before the Argos plucked him out of arena football obscurity in May. He paid the team back by running an interception back for 25 yards and the second TD Sunday.
Barker credited defensive coordinator Chris Jones for unearthing talent through evaluation camps he holds. Jones leaves Saturday for just such a camp in Los Angeles.
"Guys who show they have the physical skills, he gives a shot to,'' said Barker.
They found Horne at a camp in Detroit.
"He paid his $80 and showed what he can do,'' said Barker. "He ended up making it to the next step and then finally making it to training camp. And then the ultimate (goal) of finally making the team and holding onto a starting position all year.''
In five-foot-nine running back Chad Kackert, Milanovich and Barker saw a player who had a bigger toolbox than former league rushing leader Cory Boyd. Kackert won MVP honours Sunday after rushing for 133 yards and catching passes for another 62.
"I was just explaining to someone else the road it took to get here,'' Kackert said in the leadup to Sunday's game. "Just thinking back and reflecting, it will humble you.
"Because there are so many guys out there who can play and don't get their opportunities ... So it's a real blessing to be here, and to have that opportunity I was given in Week 7 really means a lot.