Rivalries in sport run deep. The Battle of Alberta, the Battle of Quebec, and the Battle of Ontario. In college football, Michigan vs. Michigan State, Washington vs. Washington State, Florida vs. Florida and so on.
In the Canadian Football League a rivalry exists between East and West, the Edmonton Eskimos and the Montreal Alouettes.
It started in the fifties as Jackie Parker and the Eskimos won three straight Grey Cup championships from 1954 to 1956. In the seventies, the Alouettes would capture Grey Cups in 1974; there was the famed Staples Game in 1977 where the Montreal Alouettes hammered the Eskimos 41-6 on a chilly day at Olympic Stadium. The Eskimos 9-8 win over the Alouettes in 1975 thanks to Don Sweet missed field goal. The Eskimos would go on to beat the Alouettes in the 1978 and 1979 Grey Cup games.
In the fifties the Eskimos faced Sam “The Rifle” Etcheverrry. In the seventies, Sonny Wade gave the Eskimos all they could handle.
The rivalry took a hiatus in the eighties as the Alouettes/Concordes began to fade and in 1987, ceased to exist. The Alouettes would return in 1996 and it would take some time for the rivalry to be restored. In the 2000’s, the rivalry was back in a big way thanks to a quarterback from Los Angeles, California named Anthony Calvillo.
Calvillo signed with the Alouettes in the 1998 season backing up ironically, a former Eskimo Tracy Ham. Calvillo would take the starters role in 2000.
By 2002, he earned his second berth in the Grey Cup, facing the Eskimos at Commonwealth Stadium. The field conditions were brutal; the grass was nothing but ice. Calvillo would complete just 11 passes out 31 attempts for 260 yards but was named the Grey Cup MVP for his first championship, a 25-16 win over the Eskimos. Calvillo combined with Pat Woodcock for a 99-yard touchdown, the longest pass reception in Grey Cup history.
The two teams would meet a year later in Regina. This time it was Ricky Ray besting Calvillo on this day winning 34-22. Calvillo was still spectacular, throwing for 371 yards and two touchdowns.
Two years later, one of the greatest Grey Cup games in CFL history was staged at B.C. Place Stadium in Vancouver. The game would have six lead changes. Both Ricky Ray and Anthony Calvillo put on memorable performances as the game would be decided in overtime. Calvillo hitting Dave Stala for a touchdown; Ray matching with a touchdown to Jason Tucker. Calvillo with the now famous double pass to Kerry Watkins who dropped a touchdown which wouldn’t have counted anyway. Eskimos would go on to win 38-35, another triumph over Calvillo and the Alouettes.
Before the 2002 season, the Eskimos and Alouettes was just another game on the schedule. The 2002 Grey Cup game restored the excitement and intrigue of the rivalry. From then on, games between the Eskimos and Alouettes became a game fans circled on their calendars. Anthony Calvillo was a big reason why.
His physical tools left little to be desired. Not a great build; a slow runner. A cannon for an arm mind you but Calvillo’s greatest asset was his mind. He actually called his own plays under head coach Don Matthews. This is a task that most quarterbacks dread and Calvillo excelled at it. He’s the Peyton Manning of the CFL.
One game in particular comes to mind from the 2006 season. The Alouettes beat the Eskimos 21-13 in late July. The game was a close affair for much of the night until a key drive in the second half. Calvillo called only two plays during a fourth quarter scoring drive. A hitch-pass to the sidelines, and then a hand-off to Robert Edwards. One after the other until Edwards would score. So simple, so basic, and yet so brilliant.
The later Calvillo years were the most enjoyable to watch. Marc Trestman turned him into a quick release quarterback which extended his career.
Calvillo faced the Eskimos 11 times from 2008 to 2013 which included an Eastern Final in 2008. Calvillo only lost one game against the green and gold.
Calvillo was the quarterback that I looked forward to seeing the most and the one quarterback I feared the most. He was a surgeon, a magician, a tactician, and a knockout artist. It seemed the only way you stop Calvillo is if you knocked him out like Eskimos defensive end Marcus Howard did in a September game during the 2011 season.
Today, Anthony Calvillo has announced his retirement.
Bittersweet because for as much as Eskimo fans and I shook at the thought and sight of seeing the Eskimos lineup against him, we were also so very blessed to watch the greatest quarterback of all time work his artistry.
Anthony Calvillo, thank you for the memories. Thank you for showing us your courage and perseverance through adversity on and off the field.
Eskimos and CFL fans might be happy their teams don’t have to face you anymore. It’s only out of respect and acknowledgement of how formidable of an opponent you truly were.