Some words can reliably provoke an argument – the adjective “best” is among them.
Spark a debate about the finest quarterback ever to tread on a Canadian gridiron, and camps quickly form around the usual suspects: Ron Lancaster, Warren Moon, Doug Flutie and Damon Allen.
Boosters of the Montreal Alouettes’ Anthony Calvillo, however, now have the weight of statistics and the record book on their side.
Having already set the CFL mark for touchdown passes and total completions earlier this season, Calvillo established the professional football record for passing yards on his 32nd throw of a Thanksgiving Day tilt with the Toronto Argonauts.
“He’s passed everybody, he’s the best of the best,” summarized Als running back Brandon Whitaker, who admittedly has a conflict of interest.
The fateful pass came on the last play of the third quarter, and was marked by scoreboard tributes from quarterbacking greats Dan Marino, Moon, and Allen, who was on hand to see his mark of 72,381 yards eclipsed.
Calvillo said that of all the records he has set, this one took the greatest mental and emotional toll.
“Thinking of the moment, leading up to the game, I was just getting very emotional and I think it put a strain on me. As much as I talked about how I was just going to be concerned with the game, I was glad it was over with,” he said afterward. “The montage they had up there with the five ex-quarterbacks, that was pretty special. My family was with me, my mom, I was trying to absorb it as much as I could and then get back to the game.”
Ah yes, the game. More than a record-setting throw, the pass staked Montreal to a 29-19 lead it wouldn’t relinquish. The loss officially eliminated the Argos (3-11) from the playoffs and clinched a postseason berth for the first-place Als (9-5).
But the overarching narrative is about the kid from East L.A. who wasn’t even supposed to be good enough for big-time NCAA ball and started his pro career with the now-defunct Las Vegas Posse – who memorably held their training camp in a parking lot.
It’s not an outcome Calvillo ever dared imagine, but as he said, “things just seem to fall into place for me.”
Like Moon and Allen before him, Calvillo smashed the mark in style by connecting on a touchdown pass, a beautiful 50-yard catch-and-run to Jamel Richardson.
The CFL’s most dangerous receiver turned what should have been a routine check-down into an entry in the history books when he swatted away a would-be tackler as though he were an impertinent mosquito and cantered into the end zone.
Not that Richardson grasped the importance of the occasion, throwing the ball into the stands.
“The whole game just paused, that’s when I knew I had messed up,” Richardson said.
The most precious object at Percival Molson Stadium, it should be noted, was quickly recovered.
Another quirky sub-plot to Calvillo’s day was the curious disappearance for more than a quarter of the scoreboard ticker counting down to the record.
Coach Marc Trestman later admitted it was his doing, but wouldn’t elaborate on why.
No matter, the Als have now won three in a row and erased a halftime disadvantage for the first time in five tries this season.
The history books will surely gloss over the trouble the Argos defence gave Calvillo in attaining the mark – this was a nip-and-tuck game for most of three quarters.
Calvillo ended the game 26-of-38 for 305 yards with a touchdown pass and an interception, he also tallied the go-ahead score on an Allen-esque scramble.
From Trestman’s perspective, Calvillo’s place in the ‘best-ever’ discussion is legitimate.
“He’s as good as any of the great quarterbacks I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with,” said Trestman, who coached NFL Hall of Famer Steve Young.
True, Allen’s rushing prowess – like Flutie’s – is a dimension Calvillo lacks.
And yes, Moon won more Grey Cups – he won five in a row – as did Allen.
But Calvillo has led his team to more championship games than any of his predecessors, and his ability to rip defences apart through the air is peerless in CFL annals.
Allen, who was on hand to present a plaque to Calvillo, ventured his own opinion on the ‘best-ever’ question, pointing out the answer is a function of perspective.
“He’s the true essence of a pocket passer in our game. I played a different style,” he said.