The ALSternative — Merci Anthony

I knew that this day would eventually come. And yet, I still don’t find myself any more prepared for it.

After 20 seasons, 3 Grey Cup championships, several records and numerous achievements both on and off the field, Anthony Calvillo officially called it a career this past Tuesday. His name is synonymous with greatness and triumph. But perhaps the most memorable thing about him was not his on-field success, but rather the way he carried himself as a professional.

This was a man who was passionate about the game of football and who strived to better himself each and every year. His numbers speak for themselves, but when you mention the name Anthony Calvillo, you also have to include how incredibly generous and humble he was.

I’ve had the privilege of meeting AC on numerous occasions. And each time, I am always blown away at how kind he is to his fans. Always willing to sign an autograph, pose for a picture or even just sit and talk for a few moments. He never once acted like he was doing anyone a favour in doing so. If anything, he seemed almost embarrassed by the attention, as though he couldn’t imagine why anyone would want a piece of him.

One of my favourite stories about Anthony came just after he broke the all-time passing yards record in 2011. It was on Thanksgiving Monday and the Alouettes won, also starting a new tradition of my mom joining me annually for at least one Alouettes game. Afterwards we waited to see many of the players and the last one out was naturally Anthony. A massive crowd had waited patiently for their hero and he obliged every single request for an autograph or photo with the new pro football passing king.

Not one person was denied by AC. That alone would be incredible all by itself. But with it being Thanksgiving and Calvillo being his generous self, he headed off afterwards to Montreal’s Old Brewery Mission to join his teammates in serving Thanksgiving dinner to the city’s less fortunate.

Just think about that for a moment: You become pro football’s all-time leader in passing yards, eclipsing so many other quarterbacks before you. You already have three championships, numerous awards and you have the respect and admiration of an entire league. And instead of joining those same teammates for a fancy dinner to celebrate your once-in-a-lifetime achievement, you take it upon yourself to bring a little bit of dignity and compassion to your fellow man.

That to me speaks volumes and even if you weren’t an Alouettes fan, you can’t help but admire a man who is selfless enough to do such a thing. But for AC, giving back to the community that embraced him as one of their own was an easy move to make.

As the tributes poured in this past week for AC from his contemporaries, you also got to see more examples of his generous nature. Countless hospital visits to sick kids, participating in charity events and so much more. Anthony Calvillo truly is a man of the people. As amazing as he has been on the football field, he’s been ten times as amazing off of it.

But his greatest victory came when he quietly battled a cancerous thyroid. Calvillo was determined not to make this battle all about him, so he confided only in a few teammates and went about his business, focusing his energy to delivering a repeat Grey Cup win for the Alouettes.

As myself and several Alouettes fans celebrated that Grey Cup victory in the frigid Edmonton stands, Anthony finally revealed in the post-game presser what doctors discovered several months earlier; that there was a possible cancer in him, but its removal could wait until after the football season was finished. He selflessly put his team and city above all else.

And when training camp opened in June 2011 there was AC, cancer-free and ready to defend his championship. Calvillo has stood head and shoulders above any adversity that has come before him. And now we fans must prepare ourselves for life without #13 behind centre.

It’s going to be tough this coming June, seeing all the quarterbacks there and no AC. Troy Smith and Tanner Marsh will compete for the starter’s role and I have total faith in their abilities to lead this team into the future. But metaphorically speaking, they will be in tough to climb out of the giant shadow that Anthony has cast on this franchise. Replacing a legend is never easy and I hope every Alouettes fan bears that in mind.

The day will also come when AC gets that phone call saying that he’s going into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. And suffice to say that no one will ever wear the #13 again for the Montreal Alouettes. My father used to say with Calvillo, “Wearing that number, I guess he’s not superstitious” as the number 13 is generally considered unlucky.

But for this Alouettes franchise and its devoted faithful, it was more than lucky. It was absolutely perfect. We truly were the lucky ones, to be able to call this man our leader for 16 seasons. And the city of Montreal is also lucky to consider this man one of it’s own.

AC will always be a part of this team in some way, shape or form. I’m just glad that I can say that I got to see such a talent live and in person. It truly has been a delight to call Anthony Calvillo my quarterback.

Anthony, we fans cannot thank you enough for all that you have done for this Montreal Alouettes franchise. You’re leaving this team and this league in much better shape than you found it.

Merci Anthony. We speak your name.