Quarterbacks in the CFL walk a tightrope psychologically, even when they're retired.
There is no doubt Damon Allen has plenty of respect for Montreal Alouettes veteran Anthony Calvillo, who will probably break a tie with Allen - each has thrown 394 CFL touchdown passes - Friday, when the Toronto Argonauts visit Percival Molson Stadium.
But it's never easy to have a record mark erased. In a conference call Wednesday, Allen balanced praise for Calvillo's approaching milestone with the ever-present reminder that he ran much more as a quarterback than Calvillo does. The Als pivot will take away Allen's career TD title in his 18th season, five years earlier than Allen needed to accumulate it.
"If there's anyone I'd be happy to see break the record, it's Anthony," said Allen, who retired in 2008.
He recalled another former record holder, the legendary Ron Lancaster, had expressed that sentiment of Allen when the former Edmonton Eskimos, Ottawa Rough Riders, Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Memphis Mad Dogs and Argonauts quarterback surpassed Lancaster's 22-year-old mark.
"[Calvillo]is a true passer. If I could add my close-to-100 rushing touchdowns, he'd have a little more ways to go," the much-travelled Allen said.
Early in Allen's career, he benefited from having an Edmonton receiving corps that included Brian Kelly, Stephen Jones, Rick House, Marco Cyncar and Eddie Brown. Later, he developed his running skills.
Calvillo has always relied on his passing arm more than his running backs, and clubs have built offensive strategies to suit him.
Allen said he appreciated Calvillo's craft and dedication to the game, and his confidence when he walks on the field as a man of experience.
He's as meticulous as a surgeon, a man who sees the game much slower than everyone else, "but we're two different quarterbacks," said Allen, who accumulated more than 72,000 yards of offence in the air, "and on about [another 12,000]of them, I snuck the ball."
Calvillo has rushed less than 4,000.
"He's been a true passer, in every sense of the word. … At the same time, records are meant to be broken and I truly understand that," Allen said.
Allen said Wednesday there was a continuum of teaching among CFL pivots, with Matt Dunigan having schooled him; Allen mentoring Tracy Ham; Ham breaking in Calvillo. But gone are the days when a good quarterback passed the football for 300 or 400 yards through the air and directed a running game of more than 100 in a game.
"That's the special ingredient … you don't have that dynamic any more in the game that often," Allen said. "It's made me appreciate the uniqueness of what I brought to the table."
His longevity in the CFL, like Calvillo's, was helped by a scarcity of on-field injuries. It's also been helped by good offensive linemen who get overshadowed by quarterbacks and running backs and are only noticed when they miss an assignment.
The linemen taught quarterbacks how to play the game, Allen said, "and if I had a 23-year career, credit them. A quarterback is absolutely nothing without the linemen in front of him."
But longevity is more than the physical ability to run out on the field. "Anthony's good in the area of intelligence, understanding the game. He doesn't panic in situations. He knows where his second and third receivers are. … And he throws the football way more than I did."
Calvillo, 39 in August, also needs 68 completions to beat Allen's record of 5,158. He's also 3,490 yards from surpassing Allen as professional football's career passing leader (72,381).
He's paid his dues in a career that featured sojourns in Las Vegas and Hamilton, and losing five of six Grey Cup games before winning the last two.
"It didn't happen overnight," Calvillo said.