For the vast majority of Chris Van Zeyl’s nine-year CFL career, locker room clean out day has been one of the worst of the season.
It usually comes on the heels of some heartbreaking playoff loss or, even worse, a woeful campaign in which the post-season wasn’t even part of the equation. There are goodbyes to teammates that won’t be back due to the inevitable churn of football, a general sense of a job unfinished.
But not this year.
Instead, Van Zeyl and his Toronto Argonaut teammates wrapped up their 2017 CFL season in the best way possible: with a Grey Cup championship. Apparently, it’s easier to stop playing football when there is no more football left to be played.
“I keep playing back moments from the game and what happened after, being there with my family in the snow with confetti…it was just amazing.” said Van Zeyl, an all-star at offensive tackle this season. “My wife put it pretty well, she said ‘no sad days this year.'”
While the mood wasn’t exactly festive at the old Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School in Etobicoke that the Argos now use as their locker room and base of football operations – everybody looks pretty worn out from two full days of celebrating – there were plenty of smiling faces and bro hugs to go around.
There is, however, lots of uncertainty surrounding the club, starting with the status of quarterback Ricky Ray. It sounds like the euphoria is starting to wear off for the 38-year-old pivot as he begins to ponder his future in the game. He’s set to become a free agent in February and pondering retirement.
“It’s been an awesome few days but it’s starting to fade a little bit,” Ray said. “Yeah, I’m seriously thinking about what my future is going to be.”
With a fourth Grey Cup ring – the most of any starting quarterback in CFL history – there would seem to be very little left to prove for the sure-fire Hall-of-Famer. Ray said there’s an appeal to going out a Grey Cup champion as Redblacks quarterback Henry Burris did last year.
“There’s still a lot to accomplish but what is going to make it tougher is the year that we had, the finish that we had, that feeling that you’re at the top of the mountain,” he said. “Being able to have this as my last memory of playing, it’s going to make it more difficult.”
The crowd at Tuesday’s Grey Cup celebration in Nathan Phillip’s Square chanted “one more year” during Ray’s speech to which he responded, “why not two?” But a day later he said he was only joking.
“I was just kidding around. No hidden meaning,” he said.
General manager Jim Popp said he hasn’t opened discussions with any of the team’s pending free agents, a list that also includes linebacker Bear Woods as well as receivers S.J. Green and Grey Cup MVP DeVier Posey. Ray is clearly a priority but Popp says he won’t be pressuring him to make a decision.
“He should go home, he should relax, he should be with his family and be adamant he wants to play and then we’ll move from there,” Popp said. “Our view is he’s our quarterback and we want him back, expect him back until we hear something different.”
Just a few days into the off-season, Ray says there isn’t a timetable to make a decision.
“Going off last year’s experience, I knew before the end of the [calendar] year. It’s going to come down to how I feel,” Ray said. “It’s just going to be a gut feeling. One day I’m just going to know what my decision is going to be and I’ll just roll with it.”