This November two teams will compete for the 102nd Grey Cup Championship. One hundred and two years of professional football in our country, and during that time, only five quarterbacks have thrown for 50,000 yards or more. This coming weekend, in Edmonton ironically, Ricky Ray of the Argos can become the sixth. He is 367 yards away, which means he would have to have the second-best game of the 2014 campaign. But in his career Ray has thrown for over 300 yards 73 times, and in 23 of those games he has thrown for over 367 yards, so it is within the realm of possibility.
Some may not think it is all that impressive of a milestone, and will say, "if you play long enough, then you should accumulate yards." However, that is exactly why it is so impressive. If you break down the numbers, to get to 50K you need to throw for 5,000 yards per year for ten years. Now 5,000 yards per year is no walk in the park, in fact the future Hall of Famer has only crossed that threshold three times in his eleven years in the league and averages just over 4,300 yards per season. So if you're averaging just over 4,000 yards, which puts a quarterback in the elite category, now you're looking at having to play one of the most physically demanding sports on the planet for 12 years or more, and all 12 years have to be at that elite level.
Now consider the physical pounding a quarterback takes, and the pressure that they are under, and it starts to become hard to imagine that a player can even stay in the game that long, let alone play at that level for that long.
The 50K club is an impressive list, and it's topped by Anthony Calvillo. He is pro football's all-time leading passer at almost 80,000 yards, a number that seems out of anyone's reach in the modern era. Calvillo is followed by Damon Allen, Danny McManus, Henry Burris, and the late Ron Lancaster. All are Grey Cup Champions, all league Most Outstanding Players, and all were older than Ray when they did it, well barely older in the case of AC.
Calvillo hit 50K on July 14, 2007 at the age of 34 years, 10 months and 22 days. It took Allen much longer as he hit the mark on October 22, 2000 at 37 years old. McManus got there on October 21, 2004 at just over 39 years old. Burris hit the milestone on September 13, 2013 at 38 years old and Ronny set the mark on October 1, 1978 in his 256th start and he was a month away from turning 40. Keep in mind, Lancaster played in a different era where George Reed and the running game was prominent.
If Ray gets there in Edmonton on Saturday afternoon it will be in his 181st start at the age of 34 years, 10 months and 2 days. Exactly 19 days younger than Calvillo when he got to 50K.
So if he does it on Saturday, not only will he be the youngest to get there, but based on a stat that is always kept in football, but is rarely talked about, he will be the most efficient. It is called the quarterback efficiency rating and requires a complicated mathematical formula. It isn't talked about all that often because it just takes too long to explain. However, it is a way to rate a quarterback's level of play by using all of the stats involved in the position, like completion percentage, touchdown passes and interceptions to name a few.
A perfect quarterback efficiency rating is 158.3.
If we take a look at that 50K club, Ricky Ray will top the list when it comes to career quarterback efficiency rating.
50,000 Yard Club
|> RICKY RAY
Of the six players breathing the rarified air of the 50,000-plus club, Ray will be the youngest to get there, and will have been the most efficient quarterback on the list.
This Saturday, fans in Edmonton have an opportunity to watch live a little history in the making. This will be the number one storyline in the game, and is the biggest story whether Ray gets the 367 or not. If he does it will be in the city where he racked up over 40,000 of his 50,000 yards, and if he doesn't get there it will be because a fired up Edmonton defence doesn't want it to happen on their shift. Either way it is a huge story.
This week Ray will be humble as always, and downplay the milestone to try and keep the focus on the team. He will give credit to his teammates along the way and the coaches that have helped him get there, and will continue to be a great ambassador of the game. That humility and respect for the game, and the opponent, is a character trait consistent with all the members of the 50K club. They have all been great players, but even better people. They are players that were always professional, always accommodating to the fans, and always putting the team first.
Oh, and one side note. Doug Flutie played for seven and a half years in the CFL and during that time passed for over 5,500 yards per year throwing for a total of 41,355. As mentioned earlier, if he does it this weekend Ray will hit 50K mark younger than any quarterback in the club, a fact that wouldn't have changed if Flutie played another year and a half in the CFL. On Flutie's pace he would have hit 50K if he stayed in the CFL at about midway through the 1999 season. We can estimate that at around Labour Day he would have been 36 years old, a full two years older than Ray.
In that U.S.-born players in the CFL usually arrive in Canada at different times in their careers, the actual age of Ricky Ray compared to the rest of the 50K club may not seem all that relevant. Unless you start to wonder as I did, what the final number could be for the former Sacramento State star. Ray is almost the exact same age as Calvillo was when he set the mark back in July of 2007. AC went on to play another six years and totaled almost 80,000 yards, a number that most think is unreachable.
Or is it?