If Anthony Calvillo can pull off his plan to return for the last game of the 2013 regular season and lead the Alouettes to playoff success, an unlikely turning point may have been a pass completed to the most unlikeliest of receivers.
A week ago in the bowels of Olympic Stadium, his concussion symptoms behind him, the future Hall of Famer picked up a football for the first time since Aug. 17 and threw a pass to the only guy in the room who has been around as long as AC has.
"When he gets healthy this is his team and I’ll support that with all my heart.”
Shorter in stature than Calvillo’s preferred target over the past decade and a half, but having arrived in the same year as Ben Cahoon in 1998, head athletic therapist Rodney Sassi made the catch that started the most prolific passer in pro football history back on the road to recovery.
On the morning the Als posed for their 2013 team portrait (the Montreal General Hospital would be a suitable backdrop given all their injuries), the 41-year old QB chucked a few passes across the locker-room to Jamel Richardson, himself thrilled to be rid of crutches for the first time in weeks after knee surgery.
Healing Calvillo’s brain has included everything from re-constructing his throwing to rebuilding his awareness of what happened the day Ricky Foley forced him to the turf in Regina.
“I was sure the hit was to my forehead, because that’s where the headache was,” Anthony reveals. “I was sure it was head-on and I kept telling everyone that until I finally saw the hit again.”
Calvillo was pressured from his left; his non-throwing arm awkwardly forced into his body and then knocked down with the back of his head striking the turf.
In the weeks since, he’s had treatments with Sassi to heal up what is now revealed to be a partially-torn rotator cuff. Ironically, he’d warned Josh Neiswander to be ready for a relief appearance, but the adrenaline was flowing until Foley forced the issue.
“My shoulder was sore and now it’s stiff, so just tossing the ball about 20 yards in the room I can start building up and this is part of the process,” he said.
“We all realize football is a very physical sport. The fact that I’ve been playing so long, I’ve put my body through a lot,” he added.
“Here I am at the end of my career you look at things a bit differently now maybe compared to when you’re in the prime of your career.”
“To be quite frank with you, for that question to be even asked is completely disrespectful to AC and who he is and what he’s done,” says Neiwander, who turns 27 the week after Grey Cup.
“For what he’s done for the Canadian game and for us, this is AC’s team and I respect that and back that, and I’ll be right on board with that without a doubt.”
Without a doubt.
A phrase Calvillo tosses around as routinely as he throws the slant or the out-route. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Neiwsander is not only walking the walk, he’s talking the AC talk.
Calvillo hopes to be running scout-team drills in practice the week the Als prepare for their road trip to face the Ticats in Guelph Oct. 26. All other things being equal, Neiswander gives back the reins for the finale against the Argos a week later.
“The studies show that if you are symptom free you should be allowed to go out there and play,” says Calvillo matter-of-factly.
“The one thing I’ve learned is your tolerance to take a hit might have gone down a bit.”
“You always take a risk when you step on the football field, so for me, this is what I do and I don’t know how much longer I’ll do it for, but I’ll feel very confident if the doctors give me the OK to step on the field this year.”
Not that he’s in denial.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned is if you have one concussion and come back too early, then you can have some major issues down the road,” admits Calvillo. “That’s something we just can’t afford.”
Without a doubt.
Rick Moffat is the Voice of the Montreal Alouettes on CJAD 800. He works alongside former CFL Dave Mudge. Moffat's first attended Grey Cup was as a fan in '77 - the infamous Tony Proudfoot "Staple Game". Rick is proud to say he had his first beer at an Als' game during the Marv Levy Era. Follow Rick on Twitter @RickMoffat.