How Nathan Rourke won over Ricky Ray
The recent Canadian Football Hall of Fame inductee didn’t want to get too far ahead of himself in the early parts of the season, though.
“At the beginning of the year after the first two or three games, everyone was calling him the next whatever. I was like, ‘OK, calm down everybody. It’s probably all going to even out, he’s going to have a bad game here and there,'” Ray recalled from his home in Redding, CA.
“Then I watched him play. I think they went to Ottawa and I think he threw an interception and had a fumble almost on back-to-back drives. I was like, ‘OK, let’s see how he handles the first real rough patch of the season.'”
Rourke finished that Week 4 game having made 23-31 passes for 359 yards, two touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. He also rushed five times for 81 yards and a touchdown. The Lions improved to 3-0 at that point, part of their 8-1 run that Rourke led them on before he went down with a Lisfranc sprain.
Rourke returned to action in Week 21 and started in and led the Lions to a Western Semi-Final win over the Calgary Stampeders. He ran into the same problem that every team in the league has over the last three seasons, though, as he and the Lions fell to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the Western Final this past week at IG Field.
After posting 3,349 passing yards on a league-leading 78.7 per cent completion rate with 25 touchdowns to 10 interceptions, Rourke was named the CFL’s Outstanding Canadian on Thursday night at the CFL Awards in Regina.
Three times in 2022, Rourke set the record for all-time single-game passing yards by a Canadian quarterback, eclipsing a record initially set by legendary CFL quarterback Russ Jackson.
To Ray, who took control of a starting job early in his career the same way that the 24-year-old Rourke has, his mental toughness has shone through this season.
“That’s what impressed me, with everything that happened good in the first part of the season and he had his first rough patch and he was able to get through that and come back and play,” he said.
“Then just watching a few more games this year I was really impressed. What really impressed me was how accurate he was and how nice his mechanics are and how accurate, how nice the ball comes out of his hand is just really, really impressive to me.
“(They were just) tight throws. They were right there on the money. I think he set the record right this year for completion percentage. Definitely, I was really impressed. He’s going tp be a good player.”
It’s high praise from Ray, who set a gold standard for quarterback play through his 16-year CFL career. Ray retired throwing for 53,105 yards, while becoming the only quarterback in league history to win four Grey Cups as a starter.
Ray saw success early in his career, winning two Grey Cups in his first three seasons in the league.
“The numbers, that was ridiculous,” Ray said, comparing the start of his career with Rourke’s. “It wasn’t like he was just winning games. When I got my start I was playing good and we were winning, but (Rourke) was re-writing the record book.”
Rourke is the first Lions quarterback in franchise history to win the Outstanding Canadian award. He’s the first quarterback to win the award since Gerry Datillio brought it home for the Montreal Alouettes in 1980. He, Dattilio and Russ Jackson are the only quarterbacks in league history to be named Outstanding Canadian.