In a city where hockey reigns supreme, Alouettes quarterback Anthony Calvillo sits right alongside on the throne.
After 20 CFL seasons – 16 of them in Montreal – Calvillo’s remarkable career came to an official conclusion on Tuesday, the 41-year-old announcing his retirement from the game that saw him become deeply entrenched into the city’s fabric and sports landscape.
The announcement was expected, coming on the heels of a season cut short by a concussion suffered on Aug. 17 in Saskatchewan.
He is now symptom-free with a clean bill of health following a visit with the doctor in December.
“I will walk away from this game with my head high, knowing that I won three Grey Cup championships. That’s something I’m always going to remember,” said Calvillo, who in 2011 joined a select group in being given the keys to the city of Montreal.
He hangs up his cleats as the CFL’s career leader in passing yards (79,816), touchdown passes (455) and completions (5,892). His passing yards total is a pro football all-time best while his TD passes and completions rank third and second, respectively. On the ground, an impressive 682 rushing attempts, 3,688 yards and 34 trips to the end zone.
Calvillo’s name is also etched in the record books for completions in one game (44), most 300-yard games (125) and 4,000-yard campaigns (11).
“(He) never wanted praise and always accepted people that didn’t want to praise him,” general manager Jim Popp said. “He took the blame whether it was his fault or not. This is what a leader does. This is a true leader.”
But while his accomplishments on the field loom large, Calvillo’s influence and impact off it have been just as great.
The East Los Angeles, Calif., native has made his roots in this city with his wife, Alexia, and their two young daughters. It has become his home and he has become a part of the community. He realized just how much people cared when, in 2007, Alexia was diagnosed B-cell lymphoma a week after giving birth to their second daughter and again three years later with his own battle with cancer.
“People looked at us as a football family but also as human beings. After that, I would walk around the city and people, instead of asking me about football, would ask me how my wife was doing. Then, of course, when I got sick, again it was the exact same thing,” Calvillo recalled. “I’m always going to appreciate the fact when they come up to me and ask how my family’s doing. To me, that’s always going to stand out.”
“He did so much for not only the team but the CFL,” said defensive end John Bowman, a teammate since 2006. “When you see the best player in league by far, by leaps and bounds, being so humble about success and overcoming so many difficulties in his life with himself and his wife, when you see a guy beat those odds and come back even stronger, it makes you want to do better.”
Prior to their health issues, Calvillo had been dealing with adversity that would ultimately pale in comparison. After multiple Grey Cup appearances but no titles following the 2002 win, many knocked the quarterback for not being a “big game” player. But like everything else in his life, the outside talk never brought him down.
“I didn’t buckle under it or crash under it. I accepted it and I tried to build from there, and I never gave up,” he said. “Adversity’s going to hit but how you handle it is going to be the most important thing.”
Calvillo chooses to be Alouettes’ backup quarterback
Up until the 2013 season, it would have been tough to imagine anyone but Calvillo under centre for the Alouettes. But there was a moment where his future would have been in green and white.
Popp had his eye on a 22-year-old Calvillo when the latter was with the CFL’s Las Vegas Posse in 1994. Calvillo would move on to Hamilton via the dispersal draft after the Posse folded. Popp tried to trade for him but it never materialized.
A verbal agreement was made between the GM and the quarterback. At the same time, the Toronto Argonauts and Saskatchewan Roughriders were trying to convince him to come to their cities. But Calvillo kept his word to Popp.
“He didn’t have to; he did. And this is what Anthony is all about. A true gentleman, transcends our locker room,” Popp said.
He gave his word knowing that, with Tracy Ham in place, he wouldn’t be the starter – and that’s exactly why he chose Montreal.
“I knew deep in my heart if I had another bad year, my career was over,” Calvillo noted. “I wanted to take a step back and learn from an experienced quarterback and that’s why I came here to learn under Tracy.”
Back to school for Calvillo
Now that his off-season won’t include preparation for a new campaign, Calvillo has decided to fill his time by going back to school. He began taking online courses through Utah State, where he played college ball, and is 15 credits shy of completing a Bachelor’s degree in General Studies. Part of those credits will include a 180-hour internship in the Alouettes front office, where he’ll learn about the scouting department and general manager duties.
He wants to get into coaching and plans to do so in 2015.
“That’s the great thing about Anthony – he’s very methodical, he’s patient. He wants to learn and do it correctly,” Popp said. “Then when he is put in a place to perform, he normally does it at the top. I think that’s why it will make him a very good coach.”
And if anyone was unsure as to how Popp feels about his newly-retired pivot, he made it quite clear. Fighting through tears, he reeled off a lengthy who’s who of CFL and NFL quarterback greats. Among them: Ham, Damon Allen, Doug Flutie, Warren Moon, Sam Etcheverry, Ron Lancaster, Joe Montana, Joe Namath, Terry Bradshaw, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning.
“There’s only one Anthony Calvillo,” Popp said through tears. “He’s an all-time great.”