Ricky Ray officially retires from CFL
TORONTO — One of the most prolific players in Canadian Football League history is calling it a career, as Toronto Argonauts quarterback Ricky Ray has officially announced his retirement at age 39.
The news was revealed during a conference call on Wednesday from Ray’s home in Sacramento, Calif., ending months of off-season speculation. Ray’s football future had been in the air since suffering a season-ending injury against the Calgary Stampeders on June 23, 2018.
Though the ending wasn’t ideal, Ray will be remembered for a hall of fame resume compiled over the span 16 seasons with the Argos and Edmonton Eskimos. He retires in the top-five all-time in passing yards (4th), touchdowns (5th), and starts (5th), while his calling card was his accuracy, retiring No. 1 all-time with a 68.2 career completion percentage.
“I just wanted to be a player that teammates and fans and the organization could believe in, could be proud of, that I was going to go out there and play my best every week,” said Ray. “That’s what I tried to do, perform my best and be a good leader, lead by example.”
With a CFL record four Grey Cups as a starting quarterback, Ray was a winner. After leading the Eskimos to the Grey Cup in 2003 and 2005, the veteran was traded to Toronto following the 2011 season. Though the move came as a shock, Ray left an immediate imprint on his new city, leading the Argos to an historic Grey Cup victory on home turf his very first season in 2012.
Seven years later, Ray captured a fourth championship in unexpected circumstances, leading the Argos over the heavily favoured Stampeders in a blizzard in Ottawa. With the game tied, Ray engineered a critical drive inside the three-minute warning, completing four of his six passing attempts to set up a go-ahead field goal by Lirim Hajrullaju.
Ray would return the following year before suffering a scary neck injury in Week 2 in the Argos’ home-opener, which saw him carted off the field on a stretcher. Still, even with the injury, the veteran said there’s been no second guessing his decision to return in 2018, even if he bypassed the storybook ending.
“I don’t have any regrets at all,” Ray said. “I would rather have gone through what I did last year than retiring after the 2017 season and saying ‘man, I wish I would have played one more year’.
“I think if I had left a little more in the tank I would have wondered. At this point I know I’ve given everything and I don’t have anything else to give and now I can be really satisfied that I’m making the right decision now. No regrets.”
In addition to winning the Grey Cup Most Valuable Player in 2005, Ray retires as the second-leading all-time passer in championship games (1,512 yards) and has thrown the most touchdowns in the Grey Cup with nine.
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After arriving in Canada in 2002 out of Sacramento State, Ray quickly climbed the Eskimos’ depth chart, becoming a starter and throwing 24 touchdown passes with just nine interceptions as a rookie. In 2003 he led the Eskimos to the first Grey Cup of his career, while the following year the NFL’s New York Jets came calling, signing Ray to become a backup throughout the 2004 season.
However, Ray’s time in the NFL was short-lived. He returned to Canada in 2005 and won a second Grey Cup in Edmonton, throwing for 5,510 yards while attempting a career-high 713 attempts that season.
Despite being traded after the 2011 season, Ray’s legacy in the city of Edmonton can be seen on the hallowed walls of Commonwealth Stadium. Eskimos fans will always remember the legendary quarterback as one of their own.
In Toronto, though, Ray burrowed his own roots. Following the path of legendary quarterbacks like Damon Allen, Doug Flutie and Matt Dunigan, Ray brought championships to Canada’s biggest city, capturing two Grey Cups in the span of six years.
“It was a good opportunity for me to start new, it was good for them to have a change, they were able to get another great quarterback in Mike Reilly and go on and win a championship,” Ray reflected. “Looking back it was good for both organizations and life in Toronto ended up being pretty special to me. To win two Grey Cups there, it was a big part of my career.”
Ray was at his best under Scott Milanovich, enjoying his best statistical season in Toronto in 2013 while completing a CFL record 77.2 per cent of his passes with 2,878 yards, 21 touchdowns and two interceptions, along with a quarterback rating of 126.4, a single-season record.
That same season, Ray set an all-time single-game record when he completed 95 per cent of his passes, going 19-of-20 for 286 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Winnipeg. However, an injury in August limited him to just 10 games, and though he returned in October to help the Argos win the East, they’d eventually drop the Eastern Final to Hamilton.
Though the Argos had already made other plans heading into the new season, naming James Franklin their starter for 2019, Wednesday’s announcement officially closes the book on an era. Ray’s retirement has been rumoured throughout the off-season, but the decision had to be carefully pondered.
In seven seasons with the Argos Ray played in 72 games, throwing 114 touchdown passes and just 47 interceptions, throwing for 20,205 yards.
Ray has expressed an interest in coaching in the past, but it doesn’t appear anything is imminent.