Ricky Ray (born October 22, 1979 in Happy Camp, California) is a Canadian and American football quarterback who has played in the Canadian Football League and af2, as well as spending time on a roster in the National Football League. He is most well-known for his performance with the CFL's Edmonton Eskimos.
This naturally led to appearing on a larger stage, and Ray played division one NCAA college football with Sacramento State University, and played two seasons there before turning professional. In his first year as a college starter in 1999, Ray was exceptional, with 179 of 291 passes being completed, leading to 2,422 yards and twenty touchdowns. Ray's 2000 season was a drop-off but still strong, completing 168 of 270 passes (a 62.2 completion percentage) for 13 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Ray holds the Sacramento State record for completion percentage (.619), and is third in completions and yards. Ray also rewrote the Shasta College record books during his time there, most notably throwing 199 consecutive pass attempts without allowing an interception.
Impressive though his numbers at Sacramento State were, they were nowhere near enough for Ray to seem worthy of a true NFL shot. After his college career ended in 2000, Ray attended a training camp for the NFL's San Francisco 49ers, but did not make the team and only dressed for a single pre-season game. Ray made his professional debut near the bottom of the ladder, with the Fresno Frenzy of the Arena Football League's developmental league af2.
Under the tutelage of former Canadian Football League quarterback Rick Worman, Ray thrived during his brief stay in Fresno. Playing in seven games, Ray was a natural at the Arena game, throwing 25 touchdowns as opposed to only six interceptions for a total of 1,296 yards. Even in the high-scoring environment of arena football, Ray's accuracy and arm strength impressed football observers. Although he was not yet considered a serious prospect, some Canadian football clubs were convinced to give him a look.
In 2002, Ray made the CFL's Edmonton Eskimos out of training camp. The Eskimos were considered one of the strongest teams in the West Division of the time, and were thus a good team for a quarterback to learn a winning swagger. However, the Eskimos were not to Ray's advantage in one way: they were deep at quarterback. Starter Jason Maas was considered one of the best at his position in the league, and had thus far in his career looked durable enough to stand a pounding and more than skilled enough to replace the recently-departed starter Nealon Greene. Ray would have to start the season as the Eskimos' third-string quarterback.
Fate was on Ray's side, however. Late in the fourth quarter of a Week Four game against the Saskatchewan Roughriders, Maas was knocked out of the game, and would not be available for the Week Five matchup against the rival British Columbia Lions. Ray made his debut relieving Maas in the Saskatchewan game and his first start against the Lions, and looked like a veteran by throwing for four touchdowns against a strong team. This was just the beginning of a remarkable 2002 season, in which the first-year Canadian football player threw for 2,991 yards, 24 touchdowns, and nine interceptions with a ridiculously high quarterback rating for a rookie: 101.3, highest in the league.
With Maas still recovering from injury, Ray led the Eskimos to the Grey Cup game against Montréal. Ray looked good, throwing for 324 yards, but the Eskimos lost the 90th Grey Cup to the Alouettes 26-16 in front of a rabid Eskimos home crowd. Significantly, Ray failed to convert on a vital two-point conversion late in the game that could have tied the affair at 18-18, although the icy conditions made the attempt difficult. The failure forced the Eskimos into an onside kick attempt, which failed in the most catastrophic way possible as Montréal returned it for a touchdown and took a lead that they would not lose. During the year, Ray received Offensive Player of the Week and Month honours, and would surely have been the Offensive Rookie of the Year, however, his brief NFL experience rendered him ineligible for the award.
Maas returned for the 2003 season, and the stage was set during training camp for a quarterback duel between Maas and Ray. However, it was Ray's good fortune that Maas sustained a back injury during the off-season, a condition that would require surgery. In contrast to last year's "quarterback by rotation", Ray was the starter even after Maas returned.
There was no sophomore jinx for Ray, as, despite splitting time early in the year, he ended up with a 67.6 completion percentage, 4,640 yards, 35 touchdowns and 13 interceptions and was a candidate for the Most Valuable Player award. The Eskimos rebounded from their slow start and made the playoffs, brushing aside the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the Western final thanks in no small part to Ray's 356 yards. The 91st Grey Cup in Regina, Saskatchewan featured the Eskimos against an unpleasantly familiar foe: the Alouettes. But with the previous season's home loss still stinging, the Eskimos put the screws to the Alouettes, embarrassing them 34-22, for the team's first Grey Cup in a decade. Ray played exceptionally against Alouettes coach Don Matthews's renowned blitzing defense, hitting 22 of 32 passes for 301 yards and two touchdowns.
After two outstanding years in Canada, Ray began to look south of the border, hoping to follow such CFL stars as Warren Moon, Doug Flutie, Jeff Garcia, and Dave Dickenson onto a National Football League roster. Ray drew interest from every quarter, and reports that there was an NFL scout at an Eskimos game could draw considerable paranoia from Eskimos fans desperately afraid of losing their new-found star.
The off-season of 2003 was a small circus, as Canadian football fans wondered what path Ray would take. Former Eskimo Warren Moon, a legend in both leagues, advised Ray to stay in the CFL a little while longer to improve as a quarterback and receive a better shot at a starting job. But the lure of the league he had dreamed of in his youth proved too strong to keep Ray in Canada, and he signed with the New York Jets. Even as Ray entered the NFL, former Calgary Stampeders star quarterback Dave Dickenson and former Saskatchewan Roughriders starter Henry Burris, both contemporaries of Ray's and, in the case of Dickenson, a comparable quarterback in terms of style and talent, were finding themselves unable to crack an NFL roster. Both would return to the CFL before the season was up. It was an ominous omen of how Ray's NFL stay would turn out.
In the 2004 NFL season, Ray dressed for six games with the Jets, but did nothing more than hold a clipboard on the sidelines during game action. When starter Chad Pennington went down briefly with a rotator cuff injury, some saw it as a chance for Ray to do in the NFL what he did in Canada, however, backup Quincy Carter came in and played well, dooming Ray to the bench. After the season concluded, Ray was released by the Jets. With no offers to remain on an NFL roster forthcoming for 2005, Ray returned to the Canadian Football League and the Eskimos.
Ray's return was immediately accompanied by controversy. He immediately became the favourite to take the starting job in Edmonton, but, once again, the team was deep at quarterback in 2005. In addition to Ray, Jason Maas remained in Edmonton. While Ray had been in the NFL, Maas had been the starter and had played superbly, becoming only the second Eskimo to pass for 5,000 yards in a single season. Khari Jones and Jason Johnson were also hanging around, but neither were possibilities to take the starting job.
As expected, Ray received the starting job out of training camp in 2005. Maas, despite frequent trade rumours, was once again made his backup, and Jones was released outright (he later resurfaced with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats). Johnson remained on the roster as the third quarterback. Ray started the 2005 season strong, leading the league in completions and yardage. However, towards the end of the year, Ray's play faltered, concluding in him not throwing a touchdown in the season's last four games.
In the playoffs, Ray was benched twice more, both in the West Semi-Final against Calgary and the West Final against British Columbia, and both times Maas came on the field, threw very well, and recorded the winning points. Head coach Danny Maciocia, however, promised Ray the start in the 93rd Grey Cup, perhaps because of rumours that a trade of Maas to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats had already been arranged. This time, however, Ray seized the opportunity presented to him, throwing for 359 yards and two touchdowns while completing 35 of 45 passes. The Eskimos defeated their old foes the Montréal Alouettes in a thrilling shootout victory, and Ray was the hero as he was named most valuable player.
In 2005, with Ray leading the Eskimos again, the Edmonton Eskimos and Montreal Alouettes met in the Grey Cup game for the 3rd time in 4 years. Once again, the Eskimos were victorious in the rubber match, winning in overtime, 38-35, after an ill advised move by the Montreal quarterback, Anthony Calvillo took a penalty by throwing the ball twice on the same play, and then getting sacked by Charles Alston. This decision put Montreal in a 3rd and 30 situation, and handed Edmonton their 13th Grey Cup Championship. Ray was named Grey Cup MVP of the game for his outstanding performance.
In 2006, Ray started for the Eskimos for every single game of the season. The Eskimos had one of the most successful passing offences in moving the ball downfield, but found a way to fail in the red zone quite often. The bland "take what the defence gives you" style offence that offensive coordinator Danny Maciocca implemented proved to be the downfall of the Eskimos in '06. However, Ray led the league in passing with exactly 5000 yards, and was near the top in completion percentage at 65.7 %, 21 TD's, and a passer rating of 89.8. During the season Ray also began to display his ability in scrambling, as the offensive line broke down quite often in the earlier stages of the '06 season. Ray had 469 yards rushing with 9 TD's. Despite the fact that the Eskimos did not make the playoffs, Ray was one of the few bright spots on the Eskimos.
In 2007, Ray continued to be a bright spot on the slow-starting Eskimos. On September 14, 2007, in a win against the Montreal Alouettes Ray surpassed CFL and NFL hall-of-famer Warren Moon to capture the Eskimos' all-time record for career passing yards. On September 28, 2007, he suffered a separated shoulder at the hands of Toronto Argonauts safety Willie Pile, ending his season.