Zurkowsky: Grey Cups capped Calvillo’s legacy

How might history been altered, fates changed and careers defined had the Saskatchewan Roughriders not had 13 men on the field for what should have been the final play of the 2009 Grey Cup?

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For all the passing yards Anthony Calvillo accumulated, the regular-season wins, outstanding player awards and all-star nominations, he generally never was regarded as a money player. Indeed, he and the Alouettes were 1-5 in championship games at that moment the Riders couldn’t count –– not that all the defeats necessarily were Calvillo’s fault. But that’s the price a quarterback pays.

Given a reprieve, the ball advanced by 10 yards, Damon Duval made the field goal he had missed seconds earlier, the Als prevailing 28-27. They defeated Saskatchewan a year later, too, and suddenly Calvillo could hold his head higher, a more-respectable 3-5 with a title on the line.

“Those two Grey Cups kind of capped off my legacy,” he said on Monday, the memories beginning to flood back. “I never thought about my legacy when I was playing. Now, those are two crucial games that kind of solidified what I was able to do for so many years.

“It was part of the process,” Calvillo added. “Of course, you wish you’d have won more (Grey Cups). It would have been nice to be 8-0, but that wasn’t the case. At the end of the day, I’m happy and I sleep very well at night knowing what I was able to accomplish in 20 years.”

On a sun-filled day in front of a season-high crowd at Molson Stadium, the Als might have played their best game this season, dismantling the Riders 40-9 to move into a first-place tie in the East Division with Toronto and Hamilton. And yet, as well as Montreal performed, nobody necessarily came to McGill University to see Jonathan Crompton or Chip Cox. Instead, the day belonged to Calvillo, who became the 10th player in franchise history to have his number retired during a 24-minute halftime ceremony –– the final five minutes of which were witnessed by his former teammates.

Tracy Ham, the quarterback who passed the torch to Calvillo, was there, as was former running-back Mike Pringle. Work commitments in Utah prevented Ben Cahoon from attending, although he taped a message on the video scoreboard –– as did Brett Favre, the leading passer in NFL history. Calvillo’s mother flew in from Southern California.

The day might have belonged to Calvillo, but the leading passer in professional football spent the morning washing dishes, sweeping the floors and cleaning up the house from the night before. When he arrived on site, he was touched to see the organization had paid tribute to him with a red and white stripe, along with the No. 13, painted on that yardage at both ends of the field. Calvillo spoke eloquently for several minutes, following a standing ovation that wouldn’t rival a Canadiens’ player but was impressive nonetheless. And all he could think about was getting off the field so the game could resume.

His name and number now sit high atop the southwest corner of the stadium, where both will remain forever. And when the organization eventually retires Cahoon’s number, they’ll either have to condense the size of the names, move the existing ones closer together or build an extension to the stands.


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