Perspective is a function of distance; it’s also one of time.
Montreal Alouettes quarterback Anthony Calvillo has the benefit of having travelled longer and farther than almost anyone on the professional football road.
Stated simply, a 41-year-old knows enough to be frightened of situations he didn’t give much consideration to as a rookie. Chiefly, concussions.
In 2011, Calvillo lost consciousness after taking a hellacious hit from Edmonton Eskimos defensive end Marcus Howard. A week later, he was symptom-free and back on the field.
On Aug. 17, 2013, a seemingly innocuous tackle at the hands of Saskatchewan Roughriders end Ricky Foley left Calvillo with a constellation of symptoms, “things I’d never experienced before.”
“As you start to read more about the effects it can have, what can happen if you come back to soon, you know your tolerance to taking a hit has gone down. That wasn’t a huge hit at all. I just thought, ‘There’s no need to take the risk any more,’ and that’s what pushed me toward retiring,” he said Tuesday.
Calvillo is an obsessive student of the game, and he’s paid attention to the gruesome ends that have befallen players of his generation – and read up on the mounting evidence that links head injuries to degenerative diseases such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
“Of course I [worry], but it’s not something that weighs on my mind a lot,” said Calvillo, who received a clean bill of health last December. “I’ve removed myself in order to eliminate those factors.”
The stock narrative when it comes to big-time football players – and indeed all pro athletes – is they want to go out on top.
Calvillo would certainly have preferred to have his CFL career end somewhere other than on the injured list (the game in Regina will go down as his last), but he argues it’s better this way.
“Being around the team this year stretched out the transition process. Even though I wasn’t playing any more, I was still there. I think it might have been different if I was healthy, the season ended and we didn’t win a championship and I called it a career. That would have been more of a battle for me to handle,” he said.
Because of injury, the 2013 CFL season wasn’t as much fun as the previous years – “I wasn’t playing up to the level that I wanted to” – and Calvillo’s mind was made up when the season ended.
“I asked him [last Monday] whether he was sure, because we were still willing to listen if he were to change his mind,” quipped Als general manager Jim Popp, who choked back tears several times during Calvillo’s announcement.
After 20 years in the game, he exits the stage with three CFL championship rings, an equipment bag full of records and honours and a lifetime of memories: none prouder than leading his team to back-to-back Grey Cups in 2009 and 2010.
Calvillo is the all-time leading passer in professional football – his 79,816 yards are some 7,500 ahead of second-place Damon Allen, who played three more seasons.
Calvillo has also completed more throws and tossed more touchdown passes than anyone in CFL history; his interception rate and completion percentage are far ahead of his nearest rivals, Allen and Doug Flutie.
In 16 years in Montreal, Calvillo played in eight Grey Cup games, and though he was the losing quarterback in five of them, has no regrets.
Some of his teammates – more than 2,000 in his career, if you include training camp invitees – do, however.
“He took a lot of blame than he should have. … We let him down so many times in those championship games as players, as teammates, but he didn’t complain, didn’t say a word about it,” offensive lineman Scott Flory said. “That’s what makes the mark of a man, that’s why this room is packed [Tuesday] … he’s the greatest player to have played this game, bar none.”
Some will argue Flutie deserves the “greatest ever” tag, what isn’t in dispute is Calvillo is the most accomplished pocket passer the CFL has ever seen.
And more than the athlete, there is the man.
The American is a pillar of community involvement in his adopted city, and whatever the future holds – he’ll take 2014 off, but he eventually wants to go into coaching, and will only do so with the Als – it will unfold in Montreal.
It’s been an unlikely ride for a man who grew up in a gang-ridden neighbourhood in East Los Angeles, went to college at Utah State University, and then turned pro with a fledgling CFL expansion franchise, the Las Vegas Posse. (Tryouts were in a parking lot, there were 13 quarterbacks invited.)
Mostly, Calvillo said, he’ll miss the camaraderie of the locker room, the hours spent sharing meals and bus rides with his teammates. (“There are conversations we’ve had that I can repeat, and some that I can’t repeat.”)
As he contemplates his first summer without football practice since grade school, Calvillo’s emphasis is on finishing his university degree. He’s taking two correspondence courses (“My brain isn’t used to all this studying,” he said) and will shortly start an unpaid internship in the Als front office to accumulate some of the 15 credits he needs to graduate.
His plan is to finish his course work in time for Utah State’s commencement ceremony. “It would be good for my girls [Olivia, 8, and Athenia, 6] to see that.”
As to what he’ll be doing when the Als open camp in June – without the man in the familiar No. 13 jersey – Calvillo had a ready answer.
“I’ll probably be golfing somewhere,” he said.