It seems the Canadian Football Hall of Fame will have to wait a little longer for Anthony Calvillo.
The Montreal Alouettes star quarterback is a can't-miss first-ballot selection into the hallowed hall when he hangs up his cleats. But Calvillo certainly didn't sound like he was pondering retirement Wednesday after earning his fourth straight East Division nomination for the CFL's outstanding player award and seventh overall.
“I think once you get bored or tired of winning and being nominated then it's time to quit,” Calvillo said. “I'm definitely not tired of it.”
The 39-year-old is looking to capture the CFL's top individual honour for the third time in four years and fourth overall. That would put the 18-year veteran behind only Doug Flutie (six) as the most decorated player in league history.
And Calvillo is showing no signs of slowing down, leading the league in passing (5,251 yards) and finishing tied with West Division nominee Travis Lulay of the B.C. Lions for most TD passes (32). Calvillo also had just eight interceptions despite attempting a league-high 654 passes.
Calvillo also re-wrote the CFL record book, becoming the all-time leader in passing yards (73,349), completions (5,444) and TD passes (418). This came following Calvillo's stunning announcement after last year's Grey Cup win he required off-season surgery to remove a cancerous lesion on his thyroid gland.
Calvillo's wife, Alexia Kontolemos, successfully fought cancer two years ago.
Lulay led B.C. to 10 wins over its final 11 regular-season games and top spot in the West Division. The six-foot-two, 216-pound quarterback was second to Calvillo in passing yards (4,815) and tied for most TD passes in his first full season as the Lions' starter.
“Part of it is I've been fortunate to remain healthy,” Lulay said. “I learned a lot over the course of the season.
“I do feel like, along with the rest of the football team, we have matured a lot as the season went on. Hopefully we will continue to grow in the playoffs.”
Calvillo certainly has a huge edge on Lulay in terms of experience, accomplishments and overall standing among CFL voters. Lulay's 58.7 per cent completion average was second-lowest among league starters and had more interceptions (11) than Calvillo despite 71 fewer pass attempts.
But Lulay is much more mobile than Calvillo, a threat to either run or at the very least extend plays with his legs. And if his interceptions are a checkmark against him, then needing less attempts to throw 32 TD strikes than Calvillo certainly works in Lulay's favour.
Calvillo could also be the victim of his own success. He's a multiple award winner whose story is very well known by members of the Football Reporters of Canada, who vote on the individual honours along with the eight CFL head coaches.
Lulay, on the other hand, is a new face — he's in his third CFL season — and offers the refreshing story of a humble 28-year-old making the most of his chance to be a CFL starter.
Lulay also had four TD passes in B.C.’s 43-1 home win over Montreal on Saturday night that earned the Lions first in the West. Calvillo finished 9-of-17 passing for 63 yards as the loss relegated the Alouettes to second in the East behind the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
“It's not based on one game, it's on 18 games,” Calvillo said. “I take a lot of pride in trying to be consistent year in and year out and the athletes we have here on this team and this organization have allowed me and so many of the guys to achieve so much.”
Lulay also tipped his cap to his teammates.
“The quarterback can't do anything without the guys around him,” he said. “It really is a reflection on how the team has played in the second half of the season.
“The offensive line has played great. I've been fortunate to have good skill guys around me and make me look good.”
B.C. kicker Paul McCallum was the only unanimous selection, earning the West nomination as top special-teams player. McCallum, the CFL's oldest player at age 41, set a league record for kicking accuracy by hitting on 50-of-53 field goal attempts (94.3 per cent). He was also automatic from inside 40 yards, hitting all 39 attempts as his misses were from 45, 47 and 57 yards.
McCallum also scored a CFL-high 203 points and hit a league-record 30 straight field goals.
But he faces stiff competition from Chad Owens of the Toronto Argonauts, last year's winner. Owens became the first player in pro football history to register consecutive seasons of 3,000 all-purpose yards and led the CFL in punt and kickoff returns.
Saskatchewan Roughriders linebacker Jerrell Freeman and Winnipeg defensive back Jovon Johnson are the outstanding defensive player nominees. Freeman had a CFL-high 105 tackles and six sacks while Johnson anchored a staunch Bombers defence with a league-best eight interceptions, returning two for touchdowns.
Johnson is also the first Bomber nominated for a CFL award since 2008.
Edmonton Eskimos tailback Jerome Messam, a Toronto native who grew up in Brampton, Ont., was the West Division nominee as outstanding Canadian. Messam, who was dealt by B.C. prior to the start of the season, finished third in CFL rushing with 1,057 yards (solid 5.4-yard average) and became the league's first Canadian-born 1,000-yard rusher since 2000.
The six-foot-three, 246-pound Messam presents a real challenge for defences because he's a powerful inside runner yet has the quickness to turn a potentially small gain into a huge play. Messam, 26, always believed he could play in the CFL but simply needed the opportunity.
“This means a lot,” he said. “I've worked hard and it feels great to be recognized.
“Hopefully people like me, Andrew Harris (B.C. running back) and (Calgary tailback) Jon Cornish and receivers like Chris Getzlaf (of the Saskatchewan Roughriders) are opening doors for other guys.”
Getzlaf and Cornish were both West Division nominees for the award.
Montreal kicker Sean Whyte got the East nomination. The Alouettes acquired Whyte from B.C. for a 2012 first-round draft pick and the Surrey, B.C., native paid immediate dividends, hitting 45-of-52 field goals (86.5 per cent) — including a team-record 24 straight — and finishing tied for second in CFL scoring with 197 points.
Receiver Chris Williams, who had a team-high 70 catches for 1,064 yards and six touchdowns for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, earned the East Division nomination for top rookie. Linebacker J.C. Sherritt, who recorded 72 tackles and three forced fumbles for an Edmonton defence that allowed a league-low 385 points, was the West finalist.
Tackles Jovan Olafioye of B.C. and Josh Bourke of Montreal are the top lineman finalists. Olafioye helped the Lions surrender a league-low 29 sacks while the Alouettes gave up just 34 sacks but are now minus Bourke, a native of Windsor, Ont., who suffered a late-season pectoral muscle injury.
“I feel like its a blessing being recognized individually when the offensive line is really a team effort,” Oafioye said. “It (29 sacks) comes from unity, being together for so long.
“Last year we had a lot of different positions everybody was playing. Just being together makes everybody feel more comfortable. Everyone is thinking the same.”