It was a spectacular end to a tumultuous season.
When the Toronto Argonauts captured the 100th Grey Cup, the offence was led by two key members; Ricky Ray, who threw for 231 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and Chad Kackert, who rushed for 133 yards and added 62 more on receptions en route to being named game's Most Valuable Player.
Both are back this year and both are much more comfortable in their surroundings.
Ray was acquired in a blockbuster trade with the Eskimos shortly after the 2011 season ended. Edmonton had been his only CFL home for nine seasons and, like anyone in any walk of life, an unexpected major change was something that came with some trepidation.
"I think the biggest fear was just coming to a new place and proving myself all over again," Ray told TSN.ca. "Here, I really had no experience with anybody other than a few other guys. You've got to earn their respect and show that you work hard in practice and you go out and play the best you can."
Toronto is looked upon by most fans as being the weak link in the league. Fans can be fickle when it comes to buying tickets and there's a perception that the city is CFL unfriendly. Ray had the same thoughts about the market and admits there is a stark difference between the two towns.
"As far as football here out East, it's a little bit different. In the West, there's not as much stuff to do. Here it's a big city, there's other sports teams, we're battling for competition with those guys. We didn't play well at home last year which didn't help us out, so this year we have to do a better job of being good at home and getting people excited to come out and watch us."
A major complaint over the years in Toronto is that the Argos didn't have any players with star power to compete with the big names of the other sports. Ray's name is well known in the market by even non-CFL fans, as are the names of the Chads; Owens and Kackert. The latter is back despite an offer from the NFL's New York Jets. In fact, there were reports that the running back had signed with that club, but that story quickly changed when Kackert confirmed he was coming back to the Argos. Why?
"It's best to be where you're wanted," said Kackert.
That sentiment may be in stark contrast to 12 months ago when Kackert was known to many for two things; being Cory Boyd's backup and some ill-timed fumbles in his rookie season. He silenced any criticism as he excelled after replacing Boyd as the starter in Week 8 and fumbled just once on 123 touches. He knew his teammates had his back all along.
"In the CFL, when you've got a team like we have here, it's like a family. We're treating these rookies like they've been here and they're starting to buy in. The environment we have here isn't just something that happens, it's something that's earned and takes time."
Kackert earned enough respect from his Argo family to get the opportunity to start. The club chose to release Boyd, who was leading the CFL in rushing at the time. The move was criticized by an overwhelming majority of fans and media alike. The man who pulled the trigger on the move, head coach Scott Milanovich, ultimately saw the decision pay off in late November. Following the season, Kackert was a free agent and the coach thought his star running back was headed to the NFL.
"I thought he was going to New York and I actually called and wished him luck at one point and he said 'I haven't signed anything yet', so I think Kack feels good here," said Milanovich. "He's been embraced by his teammates, he's kind of a loved guy and, not to say he wouldn't have made it in the NFL, but I think he made the right decision. This is home for him now and he's earned that."
As Kackert says, "It's best to be where you're wanted" and everyone connected with the Double Blue wants him right where he is.
Notes: Once again, the threat of bad weather moved practice to Holy Trinity Secondary School in Oakville... LT Tony Washington was back in uniform today for the first time since Sunday's first practice... DT Khalif Mitchell sat out the second session with what appeared to be a leg injury. He was walking around with a noticeable limp as the practice progressed, but he was putting weight on it... Extremely windy conditions made things very difficult for the offence... SB Andre Durie made a couple of outstanding catches on deep balls... Spotted on the sidelines today was the Argos 1976 Rookie of the Year, RB Neil Lumsden. He's now the running backs coach for the University of Guelph Gryphons... There's no question the Argos have the most interesting pair of names among newcomers. SirVincent Rogers has been on the field since the first day of rookie camp and Thursday, the club signed linebacker Mister Alexander, who made his mark over the last two years on special teams with the Houston Texans... Also added today were import DB Quinten Lawrence and LB Jake Reinhart from Guelph. Reinhart is also a long snapper... When asked about who the most impressive players have been among newcomers, both Milanovich and Ray mentioned the same name in separate interviews, speedy receiver John Chiles. The QB said of him "Every time we watch film, guys are trying to press him and he's just running by them"... Milanovich said when it comes time to make cuts and if all other things are equal, the determining factor in making the decision is "character and how they fit in the locker room".