© The Canadian Press
The Grey Cup is displayed at a hotel before the coaches' news conference in Toronto Nov. 21, 2012.
Toronto — As the Calgary Stampeders slogged through traffic to their hotel from Pearson Airport to begin the hectic business of Grey Cup week, the Toronto Argonauts were having a love-in with their fans at a downtown rally.
About 2,000, many wearing the Argonauts’ Double Blue jersey, cheered and shouted ”Ricky, Ricky” for star quarterback Ricky Ray at Yonge-Dundas Square on Tuesday evening in support of a team that earned the rare chance to play a Grey Cup game at home.
The Argonauts will face the Stampeders in the CFL championship game Sunday at Rogers Centre.
“You’re always trying to make them proud,” said Ray, the veteran who was acquired from Edmonton last winter in a bid to get the Argonauts into the 100th Grey Cup on home turf. “True fans have stuck with us all year long and we’re getting some new fans too who are really catching onto the excitement we’ve been able to capture late in the season.
“This is what we play for — these people and this city — and we’re just looking forward to playing for the championship.”
The teams get down to business Wednesday with practices at the domed stadium.
It is the first time since 2007 that the two away teams in the division finals pulled upsets to get to the title game, with Calgary knocking off the Lions in Vancouver and Toronto beating the Alouettes in Montreal on Sunday.
But they are the two hottest teams in the CFL, with Toronto on a four-game winning streak including the playoffs and Calgary having won its last five.
“Part of that is getting Ricky Ray back,” receiver and kick return ace Chad Owens said of his quarterback, whose return from injury with three games left in the regular season lit a fire under the 9-9 Argos.
“He’s been playing extremely well. But it’s going to be a tough game. It’s going to be last man standing. Calgary have a great football team.”
Owens is riding a phenomenal season in which he led the league in receiving yards and set a CFL record for all-purpose years.
He looked to the cheering crowd and said, “It’s their moment. They’ve been waiting for this. But for us, being here is not enough. I know for (the fans) it won’t be either. We want to win and we’ll do everything we can to make sure that happens.”
Winning over the fans has not been easy in a busy sports city, especially one in which all the sports teams have struggled in recent years.
The Argonauts drew only 25,792 spectators to their 42-26 win over Edmonton in the East semifinal two weeks ago.
But they went into Olympic Stadium in Montreal, jammed with 50,112 hostile fans, and pulled out the win.
And they will be the home team for the Grey Cup game at a packed 49,539-seat Rogers Centre.
“It’s going to be awesome just to have that experience and see that,” said Owens. “It’s going to be the first time in my career.
“That being said, we can’t let that emotion make you lose focus for one second because Calgary’s too good. We have to start fast and execute right away, not wait to be down to say ’OK, let’s start focusing.”’
Playing the game at home is extra special for defensive end Ricky Foley, a Courtice, Ont., native who attended York University in Toronto.
Foley said it was part of his dream when he elected to sign with Toronto in 2010 after attending the Seattle Seahawks camp instead of returning to his first CFL team, the B.C. Lions, with whom he won a Cup in 2006.
“When I signed here three years ago, part of the sales job by coach (now general manager) Jim Barker was ’We’ve got the 100th Grey Cup game and you’re a home town boy. This is where you’re supposed to be. This is your destiny.’
“There were times I didn’t know if we were going to be here. Last year was pretty rough and we had some rough stretches this year. It’s incredible to think about. The Toronto Argonauts in the 100th Grey Cup. In Toronto. It’s something else.”
Foley hopes the game will mark a turnaround for all of Toronto’s teams. Baseball’s Blue Jays certainly have the city excited after pulling off a blockbuster deal with the Miami Marlins and signing one of the top hitters in the sport in Melky Cabrera.
And with the Toronto Maple Leafs in a lockout, the spotlight will be on the Argos.
“It’s crazy,” Foley said. “This is a bigger crowd than we had for B.C. when we won the cup.
“I know it’s the middle of Toronto, but to have a couple of thousand fans down here supporting the Argos is unbelievable. I think the city just wants a winner. Hopefully it’s an upturn for sports in Toronto.”