Today's Als game belongs to Calvillo

On a day that belongs to Anthony Calvillo, there’s not enough praise and kudos former coaches and players could lavish on the legendary Alouettes’ quarterback, professional football’s passing leader.

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“My five years with A.C. will always be unforgetabble,” Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman wrote in a recent email to montrealgazette.com. “He’s such a man of character, a man that you were proud to follow because of his tremendous work ethic and character. His demeanour was always the same – humble, hard-working, honest and intelligent. And it always was with a kind sense of humour. He was never hurtful, never cynical.”

Trestman coached the Als for five years, starting in 2008. He combined with Calvillo to take the Als to three successive Grey Cups, Montreal winning in 2009 and 2010.

Trestman, now in his second season with the Bears, has often said he wouldn’t be in the NFL today were it not for Calvillo’s heroics.

“It was a privilege daily to work with him and learn from him,” Trestman said.

Calvillo will have his jersey retired during a 24-minute ceremony at halftime of Monday’s game between Montreal and the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Although the Als organization wanted to keep its plans private, montrealgazette.com reported last week via Twitter (@HerbZurkowsky1) quarterback Tracy Ham and running-back Mike Pringle were expected to attend. Slotback Ben Cahoon was invited but work commitments in Utah prevented him from attending.

Calvillo passed for 79,816 yards during his 20-year career – the last 16 with Montreal. He was named the Canadian Football League’s outstanding player three times, throwing 455 touchdowns. He was a five-time CFL all-star and led the Als to three championships in five appearances.

“He’s an awesome dude,” said offensive-tackle Jeff Perrett. “He’s a great guy, was a great teammate and is a great person. Retiring his number is the ultimate honour. You hear 13 and that’s who you think of. That’s always who you’re going to think of. To get it done this soon is obviously something incredible.”

Calvillo suffered a concussion during a game against Saskatchewan in August 2013 and never played another game. He came close to returning last season and was going to resume practising with the team – until the symptoms returned.

Als centre Luc-Brodeur Jourdain said Calvillo had the biggest influence on his career – although the pivot wasn’t a vocal force in the dressing room. Instead, Calvillo led by example on the field.

“He was the ultimate pro. He could give 1,000 actions. He did everything he could to be the most-prepared player on the field, and he never changed,” Brodeur-Jourdain said.

New Als starting quarterback Jonathan Crompton, who has the unenviable task of attempting to replace Calvillo, said he revolutionized the position.

“Look at everything he’s done. He played for 19, 20 years. The average career’s three,” Crompton said. “He played for seven times that. He changed the game, threw for all those yards and won Grey Cups.”

Calvillo becomes the 10th Montreal player to have his jersey retired by the organization. …

Als linebacker Chip Cox had a career season and was named the league’s outstanding defensive player in 2013. It’s unlikely he’ll duplicate that again, unless the team starts winning more games. But Cox believes the level of his game hasn’t deteriorated – and it’s hard to argue.

“I’m playing pretty good, but it’s not for me to decide,” he said this week. “I just leave it out there every game and play as hard as I can. If it’s not to your liking, I’m sorry; I’ll try to do better next time.”

Cox is second on the Als in defensive tackles, with 53. He returned a fumble – Aaron Lavarias recovered the ball and lateraled to Cox in Montreal’s last game against Ottawa – 55 yards for a touchdown. He received another lateral of an interception and returned that 23 yards for a score. He has two quarterback sacks and seven tackles for a loss, while knocking down three passes.

And Cox plays on special teams.

In many ways, he has become the heart and soul of the Als’ defence. And it’s the defensive unit that has carried the team this far.

“I’ve had a couple of big plays,” he quipped. “You just play hard. When the plays come, they come. You make the ones that come to you.” …

It was old home week in Regina, the Roughriders repatriating 41-year-old quarterback Kerry Joseph and former Alouette Diamond Ferri within the last few days.

Joseph, 41, was the league’s outstanding player in 2007, leading Saskatchewan to a Cup victory over Winnipeg. His last CFL action came in November, with Edmonton.

“This was a little surprising,” he admitted. “It was nothing I was planning. It was an opportunity that was tough to pass up.”

The Riders, of course, have been seeking help at quarterback since Darian Durant was placed on the six-game injured list. He underwent surgery in early September to repair a torn tendon in his right elbow and is eligible to return Oct. 24.

Joseph served as a guest coach at the New Orleans Saints’ training camp this season and has been working out quarterbacks and receivers at the high school and college level.

It’s not known how much, if at all, he’ll play for the Riders.

“That age thing is all talk,” he said defiantly. “You can play the game, whether you’re 22 or 42. If Calvillo didn’t have to battle some injuries he’d probably still be playing.”

Joseph hopes to bring veteran leadership to the team.

Ferri, meanwhile, played linebacker for Saskatchewan in 2012 and ’13. He was released last winter and signed with Montreal, only to be released at training camp, told the team wanted to go younger. Ferri was working in the guidance office of a high school in Everett, Mass., his alma mater, while helping to coach the school’s football team.

“I still had the hunger for football,” he said. “I was very surprised to hear from them. I was in the middle of starting another career. They called me out of the blue.” …

And finally, the Als’ scratches against Saskatchewan are quarterback Troy Smith and receiver Andrew Smith.



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