The first time I saw Anthony Calvillo in person I was lined up 15 yards away from him on a scorching hot field in Las Vegas, Nevada. The year was 1994, and Calvillo was a rookie starter for the Las Vegas Posse, playing against Saskatchewan in the first home game of what would be the Posse's one and only season in the Canadian Football League. It is a game that will forever be remembered for the singing of our national anthem when, "O' Canada", sounded like, "O' Christmas Tree", however, it was also the second game of Calvillo's career. It would be a career that would last for 20 years, would include a total of 365 games including playoffs and Grey Cups, and would culminate in Calvillo becoming pro football's all-time leading passer.
The old saying that reads, "you can't judge a book by its cover," couldn't have been more true when it came to my first impression of AC. We had limited information on the team, or Calvillo, it was early in the season and, he was a rookie, so there wasn't much film to watch. I tried to spend as much time as I could watching him in warm up, and I have to say I wasn't all that impressed. I knew he had played under Jim Zorn at Utah State, but he was undersized, bordering on skinny, and had a weird looking throwing style. I have to admit, I envisioned a lopsided win for the visiting team that day, that is until we kicked it off, and Calvillo started chucking the football around like he was playing in the playground on a Sunday afternoon with his brothers in La Puente, California.
There is always a cat and mouse game that goes on between the free safety and a quarterback in football, and even though I was playing in my 11th year in the CFL, it didn't take long for AC to start making me feel like the mouse. The Posse won that night by a score of 32-22 and I would never underestimate the ability of Anthony Calvillo again. Not as an opponent, or an analyst covering his illustrious career for the last 19 years.
Calvillo's numbers and records are staggering - most passing yards, 79,816. Most touchdown passes, 455. Most 300-yard passing games, 125. Most 4000+ yard passing seasons, 11.
Those are just a few of the records Calvillo holds, but he is also the leading passer in Grey Cup games, starting in eight of them, and winning on three occasions. And he has won more games as a starter than any quarterback in CFL history. Of the 277 games that AC started he won 167. Damon Allen is second on that list, winning 162.
They are numbers and records that in some cases look unreachable. But as mind-numbing as they are, what is more impressive is how he achieved them.
To see an in-depth look at the challenges that AC has had to overcome in his life, and his career, look no further than the documentary from the series Engraved On A Nation, called 'The Kid From La Puente'. In it AC and his family talk about his personal and professional struggles and how he has constantly had to overcome adversity on and off the football field. Once you see it and understand the mountain that he has had to climb and then compare that to how Calvillo has carried himself, I think you will agree that while he is one of the game's all-time best pocket passers, it is his strength of character that makes him great.
Through his tough childhood, through fights with cancer, through his humble beginnings professionally, Calvillo has always carried himself with class and integrity. After viewing the documentary again on Monday night I couldn't help but think that most people facing that level of adversity would want to lash out at the world, and become bitter and angry. Or worse, to quit and walk away.
Not Number 13, who has played 16 of his 20 years in Montreal. Calvillo has never complained about the hand he was dealt, he just somehow has always found a way to turn it into a winning hand. Over the next few days football fans will talk about his quick release, his ability to anticipate, his passing accuracy, and all of those astronomical numbers. We will discuss his leadership skills and his championships. The focus will be on AC the quarterback, however, personally, I will be thinking of Calvillo, the person. I include myself in a long list of people that have been inspired by his humility through success, and his perseverance through challenges.
Later in that 1994 CFL season when the Posse made their one and only trip to Saskatchewan, I got a chance to meet Anthony when he attended a post-game function at my home with some of his teammates. The outcome of the game that night was different than back in Game 2 of the season, and the year had been a tough one for the Posse. And yet even though there was rumours that the team would be folding, I knew I would be seeing a lot more of Anthony Calvillo. In a conversation I had with him that night, he talked about how much he appreciated the opportunity that Canada and the CFL had provided him, and how hard he was going to work to try and stay in the league and improve. I had no idea at the time that I was talking to the player that would eventually become pro football's all-time leading passer, but there was just something about Calvillo's quiet determination that made me think I hadn't seen the last of this quarterback.
Congratulations Anthony to you and your family as you walk away from the game on top of the mountain. From up close as an opponent on that hot night in Las Vegas, until your retirement on Tuesday it has been a pleasure watching you throughout this journey. Most will remember the passing yards and the wins, but I will remember the strength of character and class that you have shown every step of the way.