In the crime novel Then there were none, Agatha Christie has one of her protagonists utter the line, “no artist, I now realise, can be satisfied with art alone. There is a natural craving for recognition which cannot be gain-said.” In some ways she was of course right to express this sentiment. Everyone craves a little recognition for their work, but do the ‘artists’ of the CFL (in this somewhat stretched analogy the players), really crave the attention?
Football is first and foremost a team sport. On a year to year basis fans will be hoping that players on their teams will remember that. After all if you do enough to help your team win and you do it well, the individual recognition will follow. It is no surprise then that the two finalists for the MOP award this year are players who have had no small part in any of the successes their teams have had this year. It is also little surprise that they are both quarterbacks. After all of the 16 winners this century alone, 12 have been quarterbacks.
Perhaps least surprising of all however is the reaction of both men to the news they are in line for the award for most outstanding player in the CFL 2017. Both Mike Reilly of the Edmonton Eskimos and Ricky Ray of the Toronto Argonauts have given a nod to the honour of being selected for their respective divisions whilst stating that the focus on the playoffs was more important. Equally, both have posited that their nomination is a reflection on the play of the whole team they represent and not just their individual play. If you were a fan of either team this is the sort of class and leadership you would hope for from the faces of your franchise.
And then there were two. Two CFL players vying for the prize. So who will take the 2017 MOP award home? It’s an interesting question. Let’s start by looking at their respective seasons.
In his 15th year in the CFL, Ricky Ray broke team and personal records as the year went along. Ray finished the 2017 season ranked first in the CFL in completions (474), tied for first in completion percentage (71.0%), second in yards (5,546) and second in touchdowns (28). Ray’s yardage total is a new personal-best as an Argo and the second-highest of his career.
Starting the season as the Argos all-time leader in completions, Ray became the new franchise leader in passing yards, passing touchdowns and attempts too. During Week 18 against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Ray became the fourth quarterback in league history with 60,000+ passing yards while becoming only the third player with four or more seasons of 5,000+ yards passing.
He had thirteen games with 300+ yards this season a number only bettered once in CFL history by Doug Flutie in 1991 (14). He also finished the season with the third-most pass completions in a single season in league history (474).
For Toronto fans, who entered the season worrying about Ray’s durability one other stat really mattered too. The veteran QB started 17 of a possible 18 games & that left fans of the Double Blue thinking that in most games they had a chance to compete.
The Esks QB finished the CFL season having played in all 18 games and completed 447 of 654 passes (68.3 %) for 5830 yards and 30 touchdowns. Meaning he was first in the league for yards passing, tied for 1st with Trevor Harris with 30 touchdowns thrown, 1st in the league for most rushing touchdowns at 12 and has the highest QUAR (the CFL’s new rating system for quarterbacks) of any QB in the league at 87.1.
Reilly has also registered 12 300+ yard passing games and has also run for 390 yards on 97 carries. Further, he is one of only six CFL QBs to ever record back-to-back 5,000 passing-yard seasons.
Reilly also set the single-season passing record for most yards thrown in an Eskimos’ season and set the team season record for total touchdowns with 42.
Herein lies the paradox. If this was an MVP award – looking for the most valuable player then I think it would go to Ray, he is that valuable an asset to Toronto. Not that Reilly doesn’t make a difference to Edmonton’s chances – he does – but Ray is critical to the Argos.
However, this isn’t about the most valuable player, it is an award for the most outstanding player. Reilly has dominated the passing charts this year and he is first in rushing touchdowns to boot. Outstanding? Unarguably.
There is always a chance though that voters will look at Ray as they might look at a veteran actor who never won an oscar. The future Hall of Fame inductee has never been named MOP. Will that influence people into making a sentimental choice? I don’t know but based on this season alone I would give the award without hesitation to Reilly. I think he has been the outstanding player.
We will know when the awards ceremony is held on November the 23rd but between now and then is the little matter of finding out who will be competing in the Grey Cup. Any player will tell you that is more important right now than the individual accolades and any fans still rooting for their team to get there are bound to agree. In fact to subvert the Agatha Christie quote we started with, ‘all players, I now realise, would be satisfied with the Cup alone.’