With all-due apologies to any trademark infringements, Anthony Calvillo truly was the Ultimate Warrior.
Like the rest of Canada, we here in Saskatchewan watched Calvillo’s news conference on Tuesday in which he reluctantly announced his retirement after a 20-year Hall of Fame career.
But, unlike that room in Montreal, there were no tears flowing here in the Wheat Province. Rather, the citizens of the Rider Nation said good-bye to the game’s all-time leading passer with more of a salute.
I mean, I don’t even need one hand to count the number of players who’ve tormented the Saskatchewan Roughriders over the years yet, at the same time, you simply have so much respect for. Despite the trauma they’ve inflicted on our franchise, you simply can’t hate them.
Anthony Calvillo would top that list. Geroy Simon and Ricky Ray would be on it too.
And that’s about it.
Where do you start when reflecting on AC’s accomplishments? I just know that whenever their bus rolled up to Percival Molson Stadium in Montreal, the Saskatchewan Roughriders knew they were going to be in for a very long day.
The Alouettes with Calvillo at the helm were virtually unbeatable, particularly at home. With their three Grey Cup titles between 2002 and 2010, they truly were the Team of the Decade. Visions of Calvillo hoisted on his teammates’ shoulders still dance in my head.
But as formidable as the Alouettes were in the early part of that decade, Calvillo truly became an intimidating force when Marc Trestman showed up in 2008. Although AC was always deadly with his smarts, he was never truly a threat to run and he wasn’t being asked to pose for any fitness magazine covers.
However all that changed when the “Quarterback Whisperer”, Trestman, showed up in Montreal just in time for the Alouettes’ historic Grey Cup runs. Calvillo shed a ton of weight, looked ten years younger on the field, and really became the feared competitor that I’ll always remember. And have nightmares about.
Just look at his stats.
In 2008, once Trestman had firmly grasped the Canadian game, Calvillo threw for a record 43 touchdowns against just 13 interceptions! He also threw for a gaudy 5,633 yards which remarkably weren’t a personal best. However all that got them was a loss to Calgary in the Grey Cup at Olympic Stadium that year.
In 2009, Calvillo achieved a career best completion percentage of 72 per cent to go along with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 26-6. That all led to a Grey Cup championship in the infamous 13th Man game in Calgary, 28-27 over the Roughriders.
Heck that game was just on ESPN Classics this week as the network honoured Calvillo’s career! Of course we had to watch it all over again and AC seemed at his focused, confident best in that game. During their fourth quarter comeback from a 16-point deficit, Anthony had the steely demeanour of a feared major league closer out of the bullpen. He seemed almost robotic.
The 2010 Grey Cup was another story, when Calvillo led Montreal to a 21-18 win over the Riders in the national championship. It was the first time a team won back-to-back Grey Cups in just over a decade. It was revealed after the game that Saskatchewan quarterback Darian Durant had been playing down the stretch with a bad hamstring.
I thought to myself, ‘Big deal, AC’s been playing with cancer’, referring to his astonishing postgame admission. I mean, how do you keep that a secret?
No, Calvillo is the CFL’s Ultimate Warrior.
So much so that he literally had to be carried off the field on his last-ever play. Of course that was on Saturday, August 18 at Mosaic Stadium in Regina.
He had to be carried off the field on the last play of his career. But that’s not what we’ll think of when we look back at the miraculous career of Anthony Calvillo.
A tip of the cap to you my friend. You’ve earned a nation’s respect.