TORONTO -- The time is finally here for the Toronto Argonauts and Calgary Stampeders to kickoff the 100th Grey Cup on Sunday night at Rogers Centre.
Neither team appears the heavy favourite going in, but if anything’s certain it’s that a great story is about to unfold.
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Whether it’s for red-hot Ricky Ray and the hometown Argos, or a resilient Kevin Glenn and the visiting Stamps remains totally up in the air.
The Argos’ run to the Grey Cup started with a future Hall of Fame quarterback, and a team coming off a six-win season without any clear sense of direction for the future. Last December they united.
Add Scott Milanovich and Jason Maas into the mix – both former quarterbacks and a pair of the league’s younger, most innovative minds – and suddenly, the Boatmen are back in the Grey Cup.
The key to everything for the Argos though is Ray, who looks to be playing some of the best football of his career since returning from injury just over a month ago, with 11 touchdowns to just one interception over a stretch of four games.
Part of that success, Ray said, is a result of a multi-dimensional receiving corps that continues to grow into the offence.
"We have a very well-rounded group of guys," said Ray. "Any week it can be one guy that comes up with the 100-yard game or the big catch. We've been able to spread it around and everybody's doing a great job of stepping up when the opportunity comes there way."
Whether it's Maurice Mann, Jason Barnes, the rookie Dontrelle Inman, or the explosive Chad Owens, every game it seems to be someone different who's consistently making the big plays.
"That's what we need, we need guys to continue to play well and when you've got that chance to go out and make the play."
No matter how it's happening though, for the first time since Doug Flutie led the Argos to back-to-back Grey Cups in 1996 and 1997, the team’s identity is based on its offence.
Even during the team’s most recent championship in 2004, defence ruled the day, as the Argos became notorious for Rich Stubler’s mastery on the defensive side of the ball.
In 2007, meanwhile, the Argos boasted one of the best defences anyone could remember – but with a chance to appear in the 95th Grey Cup as the host team, it was the offence again that sputtered.
“I went through so many years with, when we get down, I know we can stop them defensively, but I’m not sure we can score more points,” reflected punter Noel Prefontaine, who’s been with the team since 1998, minus a short stint with the Edmonton Eskimos. “That’s a terrible feeling to have, and I’m sure there are thousands of Argonaut fans out there that would say the same thing.”
“For so many years they’ve watched defensive football, and defensive football isn’t exciting. Offensive football is what people want to see, and we have that now.”
Outside of some inspired football late in Damon Allen’s illustrious career, it’s been a juggling act under centre for as long as Prefontaine can recall. It might be safe to say the Argonauts now have their man.
“Ricky’s that guy, and when you have a guy like Ricky, his confidence kind of bleeds down into the football team,” he continued. “And I think that has shown over the last couple of weeks. We have a guy that knows that if we get down, we can come back.”
It took time and patience through the regular season as Ray grew into a type of offensive football he’s never seen before. But as the season grew old, production increased. The Argos finished in the bottom-three in points and touchdowns, yet by season’s end, it was obvious this is a well-oiled machine.
Entering the Grey Cup with four straight wins, Ray and the Argos are playing their best football yet.
“We’re a confident team, we’re playing some good football and that’s what you gotta do to get to the Grey Cup,” confirmed Ray.
The Ray story isn’t close to being over, but Sunday will settle another big chapter, if not the biggest in his career. It's a chance for Ray to do something bigger than he's ever done before.
Meanwhile, as the Stampeders look to avoid seeing Ray earn his third Grey Cup ring, their own quarterback’s potential storybook season is equally if not more compelling.
Glenn was at the Grey Cup the last time it was in this city, but he didn’t quite enjoy it the same way.
He led the Bombers to an appearance in the big game, but was injured early in the fourth quarter of the Eastern Final against the Argos, forcing him to watch his team fall in the Grey Cup to the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
In a script more suited for Hollywood, he rose from second on the Calgary depth chart – after being dumped by the Ticats – and led the Stampeders back to the scene of his ’07 tribulation.
It’s against all odds that he’s back here five years later as a starter, and his story alone is enough to motivate his teammates.
“I think Kevin Glenn is the heart and soul of this team, without a doubt,” said offensive lineman Obby Khan, who came out of retirement to join the team mid-season.
Glenn took over as the starter in Week 2, after Drew Tate went down with a shoulder injury that kept him out until late in the season. But despite winning 10 games and leading the Stamps to a second-place finish, Glenn was relegated to backup for the playoffs when Tate was healthy and ready to go.
His teammates said he still did everything he could to help his team.
“Going into the Sask. game, he was right there with Drew – talking to him on the sidelines, talking to him in practice, talking to him in the meeting rooms – just going over some of the things he’s seen from them when he played the games earlier in the season,” said slotback Nik Lewis.
“He could’ve been selfish and said ‘OK it’s Drew’s team now and I’ll just go and do me’, but he still took the same preparation that he took the whole year.”
Glenn showed thorough command of the offence this season in relief for Tate, throwing 25 touchdown passes and finishing with a second-best completion percentage of 66.7, behind only the Argos’ Ray.
But most of all, he showed the kind of veteran savvy that twice helped a team overcome injury to its starting quarterback to make it to the 100th Grey Cup.
“Glenn’s the leader of this team, he’s the quarterback – the guy that everyone points their finger to, that everyone looks at, the guy that everyone wants to kick dirt on,” said Khan. “But that a few want to raise on their shoulders, and hopefully we can do that this weekend.”
He’s never won a Grey Cup in his 12-year career, and knowing that his teammates are going to war for him this weekend had him emotional.
“It means a lot, it’s heartfelt. I don’t want to be emotional on the camera and everything, but to hear those guys say that is good,” said Glenn. “When you get those kinds of compliments and thoughts from your peers, guys that you play with, that’s great – it’s great to hear that.”
There’s little doubt that when the game is over and the off-season begins, questions will once again arise as to Glenn’s role with the team next season, and who will start under centre for the Calgary Stampeders.
But regardless of what happens after Sunday, this year’s Grey Cup will be his moment. If the Stampeders can cap off what’s already been a magical 2012 with a final exclamation point by beating the Argos in their own building, it’ll be a moment that is career-defining.
“This is really the last game of the season, there’s only two teams left, all eyes on us,” said Glenn. “It’s going to be pretty much everyone in Canada watching the Stampeders vs. the Argos. It’s exciting, to actually be in the game and be in the 100th Grey Cup”
“What other way to go out?”
No matter which quarterback it ends up being, no one will ever forget the year Ray and Glenn went against all odds and led their team to a win in the 100th Grey Cup.