January 21, 2014

Landry: There was no bigger foe to Argos than Calvillo


Moose antlers. Fingertips. A game unfinished. A contentious touchdown run.  A record-setting performance.  Another record-setting performance. And one more.

These are the things that come to mind when I think of Anthony Calvillo’s remarkable, sensational and unlikely career, and the standout memories from his games versus the Toronto Argonauts.

That Calvillo stands as one of the greatest quarterbacks in CFL history is unlikely in that, early on in his CFL travels, it seemed the Kid from La Puente, California would be ushered out of the league in inglorious, sideways fashion, when his tenure with the Hamilton Ticats went woefully wrong.

Fate, however, has a funny way of intervening and often in unusual ways.

So, it was in Calvillo’s move to the Montreal Alouettes – as a backup to incumbent Tracy Ham – where a career that was spinning down the drain became just the opposite, soaring to the heights of pro football, with those memory snapshots stacked as high as the arc of a long bomb.

First off, the moose antlers.

In a general sense, that’s the picture I have of Anthony Calvillo locked in my memory.  Outside of the quirky passing motion, one that at times seemed so ‘un-textbook-like’ as to render his zipped-in completions even more incredible, it is of him constantly jogging in from the sidelines as the Alouette offence got ready to move the ball again.

Arms raised above his shoulders, fists clenched on either side of his helmet. The moose is barging in to take over as moose – and Calvillo – could do.

Not a pose restricted to merely his use, of course, but a look that seems entirely his. To the point that when I see another quarterback mimic that motion, I immediately think: “he’s doing a Calvillo.”

In Calvillo’s vast library of accomplishments, he has a career’s worth against any one team, never mind the totality versus the entire league.

Chief among his highlights against the Toronto Argonauts is the moment he took over as pro football’s all-time passing yardage leader.

It was a sun-splashed Thanksgiving afternoon in Montreal, in 2011. With time expiring in the third quarter, the Als leading the visiting Argonauts by a score of 22-19, Calvillo took a snap on second and five and found Jamel Richardson on about a 9 yard look-in pattern. Zipped it hard as Richardson got a little daylight between himself and cornerback Byron Parker. Richardson did the rest, with 41 yards after the catch and that 50 yard touchdown pass made Calvillo the all-time passing yardage leader, surpassing Damon Allen’s 72,381 yards. Even the most ardent of Argo fans would have to admit, that was a glorious, incredible moment.

The Argos were familiar with Calvillo getting to the mountain top against them that year. Early in the season, on a July night (again in Montreal), Calvillo threw his 395th career touchdown pass, completing an 8-yarder to Eric Deslaurier. That gave him the CFL lead in that regard, stepping over Damon Allen in the record book.

In a third game, this one in August of 2011, Calvillo became the CFL’s all-time leader in pass completions. He set that record against – you guessed it – the Argos. This time, in Toronto, Calvillo completed 9 of his first 10 passes to set a new mark at 5,159.

It may have seemed to the Argonauts that Calvillo was damned near impossible to beat. While he and the Alouettes generally enjoyed more than a decade of prosperity, the Argos were veering from championship caliber to doormat and back.

When they weren’t up to the task, Calvillo carved them, as he did in the 2010 Eastern Final, a 48-17 wipeout. Calvillo gathered up the bulk of his stats early and cruised to a 19 for 26 passing day, for 334 yards and two touchdowns. A week later the Als won their second consecutive Grey Cup.

When the Argos were up to the task, they did beat him twice in Eastern Finals. In 2004, Calvillo was mostly bottled up and controlled by a dominant Argos’ defence, before being injured and taken out of the game in the third quarter after being hit by defensive lineman Eric England. It was the only time the Argos would beat Montreal in a stretch of five consecutive Eastern Final clashes between 2002 and 2006.

In that clutch of meetings, the Argos will tell you they deserved another win, in 2003. In a tight and fiercely contested game, Calvillo became front and centre, unpredictably so. Never known for his rushing abilities, he picked his spot and took off for a 35 yard touchdown run in a 30-26 win. In an era before all scoring plays were reviewed by CFL video officials, Calvillo’s touchdown stood, even though it seemed clear the ball had been knocked out of his hands by defensive back Clifford Ivory, just before Calvillo crossed the goal line.

In the 2012 Eastern Final, it looked as though Calvillo might bring the Als back against the Argos, with a last second touchdown. If not for a fingertip, the game may have gone to overtime.  Trailing 27-20 and facing 3rd and 10 at the Argos’ 23 yard line, Calvillo appeared to have receiver Brian Bratton open in the end zone for a score that would have allowed the Alouettes to tie the game with a successful convert. That’s when defensive back Pacino Horne juuuust got the tip of a digit on the ball as it was sailing past him and into Bratton’s waiting arms. The little wobble that the slightest of tips generated was enough to cause Bratton to fail to make the catch.

That’s the way a team usually beat an Anthony Calvillo-led attack. Grind it out and stretch yourself to the maximum in order to get the job done.

Calvillo’s teammates flourished under his rare kind of talent and leadership. It can be fairly said that his opponents – when victorious – did the same thing in the face of the adversity that he forced on them throughout his nearly peerless career. They had to in order to taste any success they may have enjoyed against him.

He made Montreal football better. He also made the rest of the league better.

Thank you for the memories, Anthony Calvillo. What a privilege to watch you play.