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In­tel­lect, tenac­ity put Als’ Calvillo in CFL’s Hall of Fame

Ottawa Sun - - SPORTS - HERB ZURKOWSKY hzurkowsky@post­ @Her­bZurkowsky1

He wasn’t go­ing to go. An­thony Calvillo was pre­pared to miss one of the great­est nights a pro­fes­sional ath­lete can en­joy — his in­duc­tion into the Cana­dian Foot­ball Hall of Fame — be­cause he was de­ter­mined to put the team first.

Four years af­ter he played his fi­nal game in an Alou­ettes uni­form, the 45-yearold con­tem­plated mak­ing the ul­ti­mate sac­ri­fice so the newly ap­pointed of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor could spend yet more time pre­par­ing for Sun­day’s home game against the Ottawa Red­blacks.

It didn’t mat­ter that ev­ery­one from Kavis Reed to Marc Trest­man told him to at­tend the cer­e­mony Thurs­day night at Tim Hor­tons Field in Hamil­ton — the same hal­lowed grounds where, two decades ear­lier, he was brayed off the field by im­petu­ous fans be­fore his re­lease by the Tiger-Cats, his ca­reer hang­ing by a thread af­ter only four sea­sons.

Calvillo’s mind was made up. But then own­ers Robert and An­drew Weten­hall made a plane avail­able for Calvillo and his fam­ily to at­tend the event. And per­haps the one thing that most stuck in Calvillo’s mind was An­drew Weten­hall telling him he missed the Als’ 2009 Grey Cup tri­umph over Saskatchewan be­cause of a business meet­ing, yet not re­mem­ber­ing any­thing about the meet­ing he be­lieved at the time to be para­mount.

There will al­ways be an­other meet­ing, just like there will al­ways be an­other game. But ath­letes for­tu­nate enough to make it into the Cana­dian foot­ball shrine — Calvillo was in­ducted in his first year of el­i­gi­bil­ity — have only one shot to live the ex­pe­ri­ence.

So he went, as he should have, and was pre­sented with his Hall of Fame jacket by Cana­dian Foot­ball League great Russ Jack­son. And then Calvillo spoke for nearly six min­utes, chok­ing up only when he thanked his fam­ily, par­tic­u­larly wife Alexia and daugh­ters Athena and Olivia. He ef­fused praise on for­mer Als gen­eral man­ager Jim Popp for be­liev­ing in him when it ap­peared Calvillo had hit rock bot­tom, signed by Mon­treal as a free agent in 1998 to back up Tracy Ham.

You know the rest. Calvillo re­tired as pro foot­ball’s ca­reer pass­ing leader, hav­ing thrown for 79,816 yards, the equiv­a­lent of 73 kilo­me­tres. A five­time CFL all-star and the league’s most out­stand­ing player three times, Calvillo played 20 sea­sons — 16 with 2017 CFL Foot­ball Hall of Famer An­thony Calvillo is a five-time all-star, played 20 sea­sons and won three Grey Cups. Mon­treal — win­ning three Grey Cups. But he might also be re­mem­bered for the other five the Als lost dur­ing an in­cred­i­ble 11-year run.

It’s only now, years into re­tire­ment, when fans see how dif­fi­cult it has been to re­place him, that Calvillo can truly be ap­pre­ci­ated for his ac­com­plish­ments. And what long-suf­fer­ing Als fan wouldn’t be con­tent with a los­ing Cup ap­pear­ance in the near fu­ture?

“Ev­ery­body has a job to do,” Calvillo said. “You cri­tique us the way you see fit. But do­ing the things for 20 years ... that’s hard stuff to do. When you’re putting up the yards and win­ning games, peo­ple just ex­pect it. They don’t re­al­ize the hard work that goes into it. Play­ing for 20 years is a spe­cial feat. When I tell peo­ple, they’re just amazed.”

Calvillo al­ways had ath­letic abil­ity and a bet­ter than av­er­age arm. He de­fied odds by be­com­ing the start­ing quar­ter­back for Las Ve­gas in 1994, one of more than a dozen piv­ots in­vited to train­ing camp by the ex­pan­sion team. But the club folded and Calvillo was then plagued by in­con­sis­tency in Hamil­ton.

Re­leased by the Ti­cats, it wasn’t long be­fore Saskatchewan and Mon­treal ex­tended con­tract of­fers. He prob­a­bly would have started sooner for the Roughrid­ers, but elected to sign with the Als and learn what it took to truly be­come a pro.

“It comes down to ma­tu­rity, ex­pe­ri­ence,” he said. “The ones who are able to ma­ture, grow, be open­minded and have tough skin are the ones that are go­ing to be around a while.

“It took a lot of work up here,” he said, point­ing to his head. “In this pro­fes­sion, you need it up­stairs. If you don’t have it, you’re not go­ing to play a long time.”

In Mon­treal, he saw the ded­i­ca­tion and work put in by Ham, who was near the end of his ca­reer. The Als also had tail­back Mike Pringle and a strong of­fen­sive line. Calvillo quickly came to re­al­ize it wasn’t all on his shoul­ders. That al­lowed him to grow and un­der­stand the game bet­ter. And he had coaches like Don Matthews and Trest­man who put their trust in him.

“The big­gest thing peo­ple don’t un­der­stand is the pres­sure that comes with be­ing a pro quar­ter­back. Lives are pretty much in your hands,” he said. “If we’re not play­ing up to our ex­pec­ta­tions and do­ing things that are nec­es­sary, a lot of stuff’s go­ing to hap­pen.”

Calvillo’s ca­reer has come full cir­cle. The hard­ships he en­coun­tered early as a player are resur­fac­ing three years into his coach­ing ca­reer as the Als strug­gle for con­sis­tency. Much as he led the team to cham­pi­onships as a player, the for­mer QB who ap­pears des­tined to be­come Mon­treal’s head coach is ex­pected to be a saviour once again.

“It’s a tough business,” he said of coach­ing. “You have to have suc­cess to stick around. I was here for so many years be­cause we won a lot of games. It’s been a tough three years, and I’ve been a part of that coach­ing staff. As much as peo­ple see me as part of this or­ga­ni­za­tion ... I’ve got to win, just like every coach on this team.

“I want to be here. They know I want to be here, but ... we have to win some games. That’s the most im­por­tant thing.”


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