MONTREAL — Anthony Calvillo isn’t sure where he’ll be when the Montreal Alouettes open training camp in June.
He just knows that for the first time since ’98 he won’t be on the field in his teal-coloured No. 13 practice jersey throwing balls to S.J. Green, Jamel Richardson and the other receivers.
The 41-year who rewrote the CFL record book for quarterbacks announced his retirement Tuesday following an illustrious 20-year career. It’s an end Calvillo knew was coming when he missed the final 10 games of the regular season with a concussion.
“My mind was pretty much made up at the end of the season that I wanted to retire,” said Calvillo. “I went on holidays to think about it but I was 99 per cent sure.
“In my mind I’ve moved on. The process of being hurt helped me go through the transition. So when June comes around, I don’t know where I’ll be.”
Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith, who got a crash course on Canadian football after signing with Montreal in August, is pegged as the new starter. That’s a position Calvillo held since 2000 after signing with the Alouettes as Tracy Ham’s understudy two years earlier.
Calvillo leaves as pro football’s most prolific passer (79,816 yards) and the CFL’s all-time leader in completions (5,892), attempts (9,437) and TD strikes (455). A spot in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame surely awaits.
The five-time CFL all-star also holds records for completions in one game (44), most 300-yard contests (125) and 4,000-yard seasons (11). Calvillo also holds most Grey Cup game records, including passing yards (2,470).
Calvillo led Montreal to eight Grey Cup appearances, winning in 2002, 2009 and 2010.
Owner Robert Wetenhall called Calvillo a “good and decent man”who was “arguably one of the great players in the history of professional football.”
In a statement, CFL commissioner Mark Cohon called Calvillo “more than one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. He is one of the most remarkable people to ever grace our league.”
The Los Angeles native who has made Montreal his home won’t be going far.
Calvillo has a spot waiting for him on the Alouettes coaching staff, but he plans to take the summer off before looking at coaching in 2015. For now, he is working on two online courses to get the final credits he needs to complete the degree he started at Utah State University before he turned pro.
He will also do a 180-hour internship in the Alouettes scouting department and front office for credit. He wants to finish his BA in general studies by April and bring his wife and two young daughters to Logan, Utah, for the graduation ceremony.
Leaving due to injury was not how Calvillo expected to end his career but he found he wasn’t enjoying the game or playing up to his own standards in his final season.
Calvillo didn’t play after suffering the second major concussion of his career on what looked like a routine hit by Saskatchewan’s Ricky Foley in a 24-21 loss on Aug. 17 in Regina.
“The thing that stood out to me is that my tolerance to take a hit had gone down and the hit that caused it wasn’t a hard hit,” said Calvillo, now symptom-free. “That concerned me.
“At the end of the day, I just didn’t want to put my head at risk any more.”
Now, the Alouettes will see what life is like without the player who has long been the face of their franchise.
“This organization has always put the right people in place, so I feel confident,” Calvillo said. “To see what Troy Smith did in half a season, not knowing anything about this league, was very impressive.”
Jim Popp, who has been general manager since the team returned to Montreal in 1996, said the Alouettes got a taste of what life without Calvillo will be like during his injury.
“Our locker room had to learn to function without Anthony,” he said. “There was a real growing process for our veterans and our new players that were looking up to Anthony.
“This is real, and we’ve got to take a step forward and depend on other people.”
Popp stepped in as head coach when Dan Hawkins was fired only five games into his first CFL season and is expected to remain in his dual role. But the team put out a release last week saying it’s still looking at head coaching candidates.
Popp said Calvillo will likely begin as a quarterbacks or receivers coach in 2015. But Popp sees Calvillo being an offensive coordinator and head coach in the future.
Calvillo was very emotional as he addressed the media and a large group of past and present Alouettes at his farewell news conference. Popp sobbed even more as he went over what the steady, six-foot-one quarterback meant to the organization.
Calvillo was just 21 when he made his CFL debut with the Las Vegas Posse in 1994. He went to Hamilton the next season after the Posse folded but following three struggling campaigns with the Tiger-Cats, Calvillo joined the Alouettes in 1998.
He was considering an offer from the Saskatchewan Roughriders but opted to sign with Montreal for the chance to learn from Ham.
“The reason I did not sign with Saskatchewan is that I knew if I had another bad year that my career was over and I couldn’t risk that,” he said. “I wanted to take a step back and learn from an experienced quarterback.”
Injuries that forced Ham’s retirement put Calvillo into the starting lineup earlier than expected and he excelled from the outset.
The winning seasons piled up, but it wasn’t always easy.
In 2007, he took the final five games of the season off to tend to his wife Alexia, who was diagnosed with B-cell lymphoma only a week after giving birth to their second daughter.
Then in 2010, a cancerous lesion was found in Calvillo’s neck. Thankfully, the scare passed with successful surgery to remove his thyroid gland.
Calvillo also endured criticism for not playing well in championship games.
The Alouettes’ win in 2002 under coach Don Matthews was largely due to the club’s defence but the repeat championships in 2009-’10 under Marc Trestman offered redemption.
“I never gave up on myself,” said Calvillo. “It was tough when you have spectacular regular seasons and then things don’t work out for you in the playoffs, especially in championship games.
“But I never doubted myself or quit. I refocused and got ready for the next year.”
Video messages from Trestman and Calvillo’s long time go-to receiver, Ben Cahoon, were played during the announcement.
Guard Scott Flory said the Alouettes will have to learn to move on without Calvillo.
“I got drafted in 1998 – Cahoon went first and I was the next pick and we all showed up together,” said the all-star guard.
“When you have an opportunity to play with these amazing players, it’s just surreal.
“You really appreciate what he’s done. The legend will just grow.”