Anthony Calvillo announced his retirement from the Canadian Football League this morning and it marks an end of an era.
Calvillo started out in the CFL while the league was in its ill-fated American experiment in 1994 with the Las Vegas Posse. He then spent three years with the Hamilton Tiger Cats before signing with the Montreal Alouettes in 1998 where he would last for 16 seasons.
Calvillo struggled for his first five seasons, and didn’t look anything close to the quarterback he would become. He completed 53.9 per cent of his passes (780/1448) for 11,687 yards with 63 touchdowns and 70 interceptions.
It was only in his second season backing up Tracy Ham with the Alouettes where he saw a turn for his statistics. In 1999, he completed 66.7 per cent of his passes with 13 touchdowns and six interceptions with over 2500 yards. It made everybody feel more at ease with Ham’s retirement.
From 2000 on he became the starting quarterback in Montreal where he would last for the next 14 seasons. The rest is history. He would become the all-time professional leader in yards and touchdowns.
Calvillo had many ups and downs over his career. The first part of his career brought great individual accolades along with team failures in the biggest moments. It started out well for Calvillo who split his first two Grey Cup games. In his first season as a starter in 2000, he came within a failed two-point conversion (and possible pass interference non-call) of tying the game late.
He won his first Grey Cup two years later when the Alouettes beat the Edmonton Eskimos 25-16. Then, over the next six years, the Alouettes would return to the championship game four times, and they would lose all four. Calvillo suddenly had the reputation of being unable to win the big game.
The 2007 season was probably the low point of Calvillo’s career. The team struggled under Jim Popp and had trouble brewing inside the locker room following the departure of Don Matthews. Not only was Calvillo looking like an old quarterback who was being hit too much and unable to get away from pressure, he underwent a bunch of personal issues as well.
Calvillo’s wife Alexia gave birth to their second daughter and one week later was diagnosed with cancer. Calvillo decided to step away from the team for the rest of the season.
Once Alexia had gotten a clean bill of health, Anthony decided to come back for the 2008 season where he would get a chance to work under new head coach Marc Trestman. Under Trestman, Calvillo returned to even above where he was in his prime. He won the 2008 Most Outstanding Player award but came up short in the Grey Cup held in Montreal at Olympic Stadium.
Calvillo was emotional as were many of his teammates after the loss, saying among other things that they would never get a chance like that again. Later, Calvillo said a lot of the disappointment came from him wanting to win the championship for his wife and family.
Calvillo’s center Bryan Chiu said after the game that the Alouettes “were getting pretty good” at losing the championship game.
However, things turned around. The Alouettes returned to the next two Grey Cup games and won them both making Calvillo 3-5 in championship games which was much more appropriate for his career and how good he was. In fact, most of the times the Alouettes failed to reach the Grey Cup at all was because Calvillo was knocked out with injuries.
After the 2010 Grey Cup win, Calvillo was very emotional and it came out that he needed to get a lesion on his thyroid removed that was discovered after he had a sternum injury. It was a surprise to most of his teammates and the reporters at the game. In December of that year, it came out that he too was given a clean bill of health.
He returned for the 2011 season on his way to break the records and establish his hold on being one of the best quarterbacks to ever play in this league. Calvillo also made Canada, and Montreal specifically, his home and will remain an ambassador for the organization even after his retirement.
He was reportedly offered the offensive coordinator position this offseason, but declined. It is not clear if he doesn’t want the responsibility of the job, or if he wants to enjoy his retirement a bit before jumping into coaching. He has earned that right.
No matter what, I don’t think you have heard the last of Anthony Calvillo as it relates to football. And the Alouettes owner Robert Wettenhall releasing a statement about the decision on their head coach shows that the organization wants the next week to be about appreciating the great career of its greatest quarterback.