Bo Levi Mitchell has Ricky Ray’s vote.
Ray is among 12 quarterbacks who have been nominated for CFL’s all-decade team (2010-19). And although Ray guided the Toronto Argonauts to two Grey Cups and threw for 28,634 yards and twice as many TDs to interceptions (149-74) over that span, he’d give Mitchell the first-team nod.
“In my opinion, I’d probably go with Bo because he checks off all the boxes,” Ray said Tuesday during a telephone interview. “Obviously he’s played on the best team probably of the decade, which helps.
“But he was a big part of making (Calgary) one of the best teams. I’d definitely give him the nod. Me personally, I missed too many games and don’t have the won-lost record to be up there.”
Mitchell has amassed a stellar 77-18 record as a starter (.804 winning percentage) and led the Stampeders to four Grey Cup appearances, winning two. A two-time CFL MVP, Mitchell threw for 27,937 yards, 169 TDs and 70 interceptions over eight seasons and his 99.8 passing efficiency is second only to Edmonton’s Trevor Harris (103.1).
Ray, 40, put up solid numbers despite missing 41 regular-season games his final four years with various ailments. He appeared in two contests in 2018 before suffering a neck injury and retiring in May 2019 with a 49-56 record as a starter over the decade.
Ray enjoyed a stellar CFL career with Edmonton (2002-03, 2005-2011) and Toronto (2012-2018) while spending the ’04 campaign with the NFL’s New York Jets. He finished with 60,736 passing yards — only Anthony Calvillo (79,816), Damon Allen (72,381) and Henry Burris (63,227) have cracked the 60,000-yard plateau — with 324 TDs, 177 interceptions and a 68.16 completion percentage over 234 regular-season games.
Ray, a three-time CFL all-star, holds the league record for most Grey Cup wins by a starter (four).
These days, Ray spends his time in Redding, Calif., with his wife and two young daughters, aged nine and five. He says everyone is safe despite an increase in novel coronavirus cases in California
“I just wanted some down time so the last year and a half I’ve just been hanging with my family,” Ray said. “I’m thankful I was able to make some good money playing and have this time to not have to work and enjoy myself.”
There have been opportunities to get back in the game. Since retiring, Ray has spoken with Marc Trestman, Rick Campbell, Jason Maas, Scott Milanovich and Craig Dickenson about his interest in coaching.
“There was never a specific, ‘Here’s the job,’ we never got that far in any discussions,” Ray said. “But there was some interest that I kind of had to say I wasn’t ready for that yet.”
However, Ray definitely sees coaching in his football future.
“The last half of my career, I really started taking a lot of notes and thinking about coaching,” Ray said. “Down the road I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the route I go.
“I’ve been playing football my whole life, it’s kind of what I do and what I know. I feel like I’d really love an opportunity to be part of that team atmosphere again and have a chance to coach some guys, help them get better and be part of a winning team. Being able to experience all that again would be pretty awesome.”
Ray is at peace with his decision to retire, in part because of the toll injuries took on him late in his career.
“I remember when I went back last year to Toronto for the home opener, I went to one of their practices and I didn’t miss it,” Ray said. “I think it’s because football got hard for me towards the end of my career.
“At one point I couldn’t throw the football 15 yards without it hurting and that wore on me so much the last four years that it took some of the enjoyment away from the game. But what I started to miss was when I saw teams winning a championship knowing I wouldn’t have a chance to do that again, to be part of a team that really caught fire and had a championship run.”
Ray said his injury woes have made him really appreciate Toronto’s ’17 Grey Cup title. That year Ray played in 17 regular-season contests and passed for 5,546 yards after being limited to just 11 starts the previous two years combined.
“I think that’s the one I’m most appreciative of because of what I’d been through personally with the injuries,” Ray said. “That’s not to say winning in 2012 after being traded (to Toronto) and being at a crossroads in my career didn’t have a lot of meaning.
“The two earlier ones in Edmonton both had a lot of meaning. But 2017 definitely gave me that fulfilling satisfaction after what I’d been through and being near the end of my career.”
Ray remains thankful he doesn’t have to deal with the uncertainty that current CFL players are due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It would be a tough spot right now wondering if there’s going to be a season, is it safe to have a season, how am I going to pay the bills, what’s going to happen with my contract?” Ray said. “There’s just a lot of things that would be going through your mind.
“Even though there are many individual things going on I think I’d try to look at the big picture. I think I’d say this is just what’s happening, everybody is kind of going through it and you’ve got to make the best of this situation.”