CFL veteran brought a message of hope to Laval English-Speaking Senior Wellness Centre
If male attendance at the Laval English-Speaking Senior Wellness Centre on March 24 was somewhat higher than it usually is, this was perhaps not completely surprising, since men do tend to have a greater appreciation for sports heroes like legendary former Montreal Alouettes quarterback Anthony Calvillo.
But as the wellness centre’s director, Kevin McLeod, pointed out, the story of Anthony Calvillo’s journey through the 20 years he spent playing pro football isn’t just about excelling at athletics. The 50-year-old native Californian, who retired from active play in 2013, has had quite a tough life journey.
Family first for Calvillo
As a teenager, Calvillo played a range of sports, but excelled especially at basketball and football. Having grown up in a family where his father was alcoholic and abusive, he found comfort from mentors that included many sports coaches, and eventually extended family members.
“For me, it’s always been about family,” Calvillo said. “I did not have the best environment growing up. I saw certain things, and I knew deep in my heart that was not what I wanted for my family. I wanted to make sure that they did not have issues with alcohol. And, of course, domestic violence was the last thing I wanted for them. So, for me it was always important that I was able to break that cycle.”
Made his mark with the Als
Calvillo today is the quarterbacks coach for the Alouettes. Although he began his career with the short-lived CFL U.S. expansion Las Vegas Posse and also played for the Hamilton Tiger Cats, it was with the Montreal Alouettes that he made his lasting mark.
He signed as a free agent with the Als in 1998, becoming one of the most outstanding quarterbacks in history. He led the Alouettes to the 2002 Grey Cup – their first in 25 years – and was named the most valuable player in the game.
In all, Calvillo won three Grey Cup championships, in 2002, 2009, and 2010, and was named the Grey Cup Most Valuable Player in 2002. He also won the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player Award three times, in 2003, 2008 and 2009.
A life with ups and downs
Calvillo was professional football’s all-time passing yards leader from 2011 to 2020, and remains first in all-time CFL passing yards. In his career, he passed for 79,816 yards and is one of nine professional quarterbacks to have completed over 400 touchdown passes.
In 2010, following an on-field injury, Calvillo found out he might be suffering from cancer. It was not the first time he’d heard the C word, since his wife had previously received a cancer diagnosis. (Calvillo’s in-laws are Chomedey residents of Greek heritage.)
Although he had surgery to remove his thyroid gland and knew his cancer wasn’t life-threatening, his wife’s was far more serious, although she achieved remission and is in good health today.
Through all of this, Anthony Calvillo eventually managed to arrive at an important conclusion. “It’s never too late to do something that you want to do,” he said, “something that you thought about and said you would do it – but what happens is you push it off.”
State of the Alouettes
Regarding the currently lamentable state of the Alouettes (the team was eliminated last November from the 2022 Grey Cup finals by the Toronto Argonauts and hasn’t made it all the way to the big game since 2010), Calvillo had this to say.
‘For me, it’s always been about family’
“For years, we had an owner with Mr. Bob Wetenhall, who I was associated with for many years,” he said. “And I’ve learned this: that winning, in any organization, it starts from up top with leadership and it funnels its way on down.”
Better days in store, he says
He said the last owner, Gary Stern, ran everything well financially. “The bills, everything was paid and stuff like that. But there were other things that were going on that I still don’t know about that put a lot of pressure on Danny Maciocia, our general manager.
“But the current ownership with Mr. Péladeau, again there’s a lot of excitement,” he added. “It seems that financially it’s not going to be an issue. But what I’m encouraged about is the fact that, talking to Danny Maciocia the general manager, is Mr. Péladeau’s going to let Danny do his job.”