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Ron Kantowski – Las Vegas Review Journal
Special to CFL.ca
LAS VEGAS, NV — It was late at night, Dec. 17, 1993, and it was one of those cold winter evenings in the desert, the kind where the wind blows and coyotes howl.
And as Anthony Calvillo sat in front of his dressing hook in the cramped locker room at Las Vegas’ Sam Boyd Stadium and removed his football gear, he thought that might be the last time.
He had just led his college team, Utah State, to a 42-33 victory over Ball State in Las Vegas Bowl II. He had passed for 386 yards and three touchdowns and was named Most Valuable Player of the Aggies’ first-ever bowl victory.
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So if it had to end there, at least it would end happily.
Anthony Calvillo had become a pretty good college quarterback, and he had overcome a modest upbringing to become one. In the part of Los Angeles where he’s from, the sound of happy kids at play often was drowned out by the sound of tough guys at odds with one another. And by gunshots.
Calvillo’s brother, David, had spent eight years in The Joint. Growing up in the mean streets ain’t easy sometimes.
Anthony Calvillo grew up. But he grew up only to 6-feet, 1-inch tall, and about 190 pounds, and 6-1, 190 usually is too small to play quarterback in the National Football League where behemoths roam.
“I knew the NFL wasn’t looking at me, that this was going to be the end, and I was fine with that,” Calvillo said about hanging his Utah State jersey on that hook in the cramped Las Vegas locker room.
He went undrafted. Maybe he would have to get a real job. Maybe he would have to be content with returning to Utah State on homecoming day, and waving to the crowd, for as long as the crowd could remember that game against Ball State.
And then, in June, a cold wind blew in from the North.
The Canadian Football League was expanding to Las Vegas, of all places, in 1994. Las Vegas: Just like Saskatoon, only 110 degrees in the shade. But they knew Anthony Calvillo in Las Vegas. They knew he could throw the football.
But Anthony Calvillo didn’t know the CFL. Never heard of it, he said. But maybe he could play there. Beats getting a real job. Beats becoming a graduate assistant at Utah State,
He was invited to training camp in Las Vegas. Great. Along with 12 other quarterbacks. Not so great.
There were quarterbacks from the Big Ten, and quarterbacks from national championship American college teams, and quarterbacks from here, and quarterbacks from there, and quarterbacks from everywhere in between, it seemed. Including Princeton, of the Ivy League. Those quarterback from Princeton are smart, and they know how to read a defence.
“I thought to myself, how am I going to compete with these guys?” Calvillo said. “But after that first day or two, I saw what they were doing, and I saw what I can do. I think that’s the last time I ever doubted myself.”
Anthony Calvillo showed he could compete with all of those quarterbacks from the power conferences. And he showed he could compete on a practice field at the Riviera Hotel that once had been a parking lot, until grass was planted over top of the asphalt, Chia-pet style.
People thought the idea of practicing Canadian-style football on an asphalt parking lot, in Las Vegas, during the middle of summer, was crazy. Maybe it was. Calvillo said he still tells people about that practice field — and they still can’t believe it.
But by the end of that season, he had beaten out every one of those quarterbacks.
The Posse wound finish 5-13 in their only CFL season, but Calvillo kept hitting the open man. He developed confidence, confidence that he could play in the CFL, with its boundless fields, and its three downs, and its 12-men per side.
Anthony Calvillo was selected with the first pick in the dispersal draft by Hamilton, where he mostly was a backup.
Then in 1998, he signed as a free agent with Montreal, where he mostly was great.