Photo Scott Grant / CFLPhotoArchive.com
Photo Scott Grant / CFLPhotoArchive.com

Ricky Ray looked like a regular dude on Saturday afternoon at BMO Field.

Wearing comfy sneakers, jeans, a plain white t-shirt and an Argos cap, it would have been easy to mistake Ray for being a fan. The unassuming franchise quarterback usually took the subway to games in Toronto and blended in with the crowd. His understated demeanour matched the clothing choice for the 39-year-old’s retirement ceremony.

Even when Ray burst onto the CFL scene as a 22-year-old rookie throwing four touchdowns in his first start beating the B.C. Lions in 2002, there was never anything egotistical about the precision passer. There are different ways to lead and Ray did it with hard work, calming confidence and timely wit. Teammates loved playing with and for the four-time Grey Cup champion.

Ray split his playing days in Canada between two cities, Edmonton and Toronto — nine years with the Eskimos and seven in Argos double blue. Ray delivered two Grey Cup championships to both cities. But somehow through his illustrious career there was never a Most Outstanding Player Award.

It wouldn’t matter to Ray, but perhaps the humble way in which he approached the game and displayed many times during media interviews caused other more hyped players to garner that particular individual hardware. There was a Rogers Fans’ Choice Award in 2003, the first year it was handed out, voted on by the dedicated supporters of the league. That’s who Ray revealed he worked hard to impress: the people who mattered to him.

“To the fans, not only here in Toronto, but across the league. Your guys’ passion and energy have pushed me to be my best every week and I thank you guys for that. I tried every game to play my best for you guys and I hope I made you guys proud,” Ray said Saturday.

The people’s champion had his wife Allyson along with daughters Chloe and Olivia alongside him on the BMO Field turf while addressing the crowd. Ray wore his field entry pass around his neck as if security would deny him access to field level. He wouldn’t want to ever assume anyone knew who he was and that’s part of his charm.

It’s that kind of connection Ray had with folks around the CFL that made us sick to our stomachs when injury troubles struck. But he never whined or complained — just pushed forward in a quiet way. The pivot regularly returned to action when many wondered if his career was done.

“My career up here in the CFL 16 years it’s been tough, it’s been challenging at times, but it also has been very rewarding, some of the best moments of my life I’ve had up here in the CFL,” Ray said at halftime of the Argos’ loss to Hamilton.

Somehow Ray put together a spectacular season in 2017 against all odds, lifting the Grey Cup one last time as snow fell to the ground in a Canadian fairytale. A fairytale written by Ray, the ordinary superstar.

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Justin Dunk is the pre-eminent CFL insider and unabashed supporter of Canadian quarterbacks. He is one of the founders of the new 3DownNation.