Over the past five years, it has become a rite as ho-hum and predictable as the annoying Christmas jingle and a pre-Boxing Day sale. It’s December, so Montreal Alouettes quarterback Anthony Calvillo must be contemplating retirement.
For the 40-year-old’s wife and children, it’s threatening to turn into an inside joke, as the man himself said: “At this point, they’re basically just letting me talk.”
Well, the conversation – monologue, really – was an abbreviated one this year.
Though pro football’s all-time leading passer seriously considered hanging up his cleats two seasons ago, the thought didn’t cross his mind this time around.
And so it is that Calvillo will return for a 20th professional season – No. 13 announced his plans for 2013 on Dec. 13, as one would.
He said the decision was reached in the aftermath of Montreal’s loss to the Toronto Argonauts in last month’s East Division final.
“I knew right away that I wanted to come back,” he said.
That’s good news for the Alouettes. Despite his advancing age, Calvillo is showing little evidence of an incipient decline, passing for 31 touchdowns and more than 5,000 yards in 2012 – a CFL-record seventh time he has done so.
He was intercepted 14 times, put together a string of eight consecutive 300-yard passing performances, led his team to a first-place finish and earned his fifth all-CFL nod in the process.
Newly-minted offensive co-ordinator Pat Meyer let it slip in a radio interview on Wednesday that the pivot would play another year.
Spilling palace secrets is frowned upon in the Alouettes organization, but this one was a minor sin. It was apparent from the off Calvillo would come back – after the season, head coach Marc Trestman opined, his quarterback put together his best year since 2008, when Trestman arrived in Montreal.
The decision, then, is a positive one for the As, who for the first time in recent memory won’t be the favourites to win the East when the season starts (that mantle now shifts to the Grey Cup champion Toronto Argonauts).
But it will almost certainly cost Montreal the man considered by many as their quarterback of the future: long-time backup Adrian McPherson is slated to become a free agent in February. At 29, it would be a surprise if he doesn’t seek a starting job elsewhere.
And if McPherson does leave, whoever replaces him on the depth chart had best be patient, Calvillo is plainly salivating at the prospect of going into 2013 with a healthy cadre of complementary players – receivers Jamel Richardson, S.J. Green and Brandon London are all under contract, while running back Brandon Whitaker, a free-agent-to-be, is recovering from knee surgery but hopes to be back by mid-summer.
“One of the reasons I keep coming back is I know we’re going to be competitive,” Calvillo said. “I just wouldn’t come back if I didn’t feel I could help this team win a championship. I wouldn’t.”
The off-season regimen Calvillo turned to in his mid-30s has helped him stave off the ailments of age – though he’s recovering from surgery to repair a small labrum tear in his non-throwing shoulder, he missed no games through injury in 2012 – and he will once again turn to his “career-extender” this winter.
If there’s a sense the Als have unfinished business on the field, having lost home playoff games in 2011 and 2012, there is also a little bit of history to consider.
Calvillo already owns most of professional football’s quarterbacking records, he enters 2013 just of out of reach of another one – he needs 60 touchdown passes to surpass Brett Favre’s mark of 508.
It’s doubtful Calvillo can set a new record in one season, but seeing as he’s signed a two-year contract (the second is an option year, so his family can expect another retirement talk next winter) don’t count him out.
While records are nice, they aren’t the reason Calvillo keeps coming back, winning is.
The California native has a 3-5 record in Grey Cup games, and badly wants to get closer to .500. This past season marked the first time since Calvillo became the Alouettes’ starter that the team has gone consecutive years without making it to the championship game.
Never let it be said this is not an intensely competitive man.
“I want to stay on top,” Calvillo said, “and the only way I know to do that is to challenge myself.”