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One of Anthony Calvillo’s traits during a game was to sit alone on the bench, away from the rest of team, and watch things unfold on the field. During his many trips to BC Place Stadium the Montreal Alouettes’ quarterback spent a lot of time watching things go wrong.
As good as Calvillo was, and considering some of the great Montreal teams he played for, the high-flying Alouettes often looked like lame ducks when they landed in Vancouver.
Calvillo, who officially announced his retirement Tuesday after a 20-year CFL career, started with the ill-fated Las Vegas Posse in 1994, then spent three years with Hamilton. He joined the Als in 1998 as a backup to Tracy Ham, then took over the starting role in 2000.
Between 2000 and 2012, Montreal played the Lions 13 times in Vancouver and won just twice. The Alouettes beat the Lions 35-25 on Aug. 13, 2000, at BC Place. They wouldn’t win another game in Vancouver until a 16-12 victory on July 16, 2010, when the Lions played on the temporary field built at Empire Stadium while renovations were being done at BC Place.
The Lions were back in BC Place when they clobbered the Als 43-1 in the final regular-season game of 2011. B.C. also beat Montreal 43-10 on Sept. 8, 2012. Calvillo was injured when the Als lost 36-14 at BC Place last September.
Between 2000 and 2012 the Lions won six games in Montreal.
Adding to the Alouettes’ West Coast frustration, Montreal lost the 2005 Grey Cup 38-35 to the Edmonton Eskimos in double overtime at BC Place. During Calvillo’s career the Lions and Als twice met in the Grey Cup with B.C. winning in 2000 and 2006.
Calvillo’s 79,816 career passing yards is more than any other quarterback in a professional league. He was the CFL’s most valuable player three times and a five-time all-star. He won three Grey Cups and was MVP of the championship game in 2002.
Still, BC Place was his Waterloo. Custer’s troops stood a better chance at the Little Big Horn than Calvillo did against the Lions in Vancouver.
B.C.’s mastery over Calvillo began even before Wally Buono left the Calgary Stampeders to join the Lions in 2003.
“Even before I came here I think for some reason the Lions and the Als, they matched up well,” said Buono, B.C.’s vice-president of football operations and general manager. “For some reason this team was always able to play one of its best games against the Alouettes.”
The three-hour time difference between Montreal and Vancouver is one factor. When the Als took the field for a 7 p.m. game in Vancouver their body clock said 10 p.m.
“You would be naive to think it was just your great play and great coaching,” chuckled Buono.
Lions’ defensive end Keron Williams said one of the keys to playing against Calvillo was to hit him early, especially later in his career.
“No quarterback likes to get hit,” said Williams. “For an older guy, that can be very frustrating and cause his focus to be obscured a bit.
“If you hit him (Calvillo) early in the game, in the first quarter, he is going to be bright-eyed for the rest of the game. Some of the reads he is normally going to make, he is not going to see them because he doesn’t want to get hit.”
Over the years the Lions dressed defensive linemen like Brent Johnson, Cam Wake and Aaron Hunt who made life difficult for Calvillo.
The Lions have made beat Montreal look easy but it wasn’t. When Marc Trestman coached the Als, his offensive scheme was to get rid of the ball quickly. That made life difficult for the defence.
“You didn’t get a chance to get too many hits on him,” said Williams. “I remember every time we played Montreal, the scouting reports would always tell us don’t expect to get a lot of sacks this week.
“The ball would always get out of there. That’s just a credit to him being smart with the football and making the right decisions to preserve his body and give the receivers a chance to work for him.”
Over the years Williams has sacked a lot of CFL quarterbacks, but Calvillo wasn’t one of them.
“He’s the only quarterback I have yet to sack,” Williams said. “It (Calvillo’s retirement) is kind of bittersweet because I really wanted to bring him down before he hung them up.”
Williams played two seasons in Montreal, winning a Grey Cup in 2009. The way Calvillo carried himself left a lasting impression.
“Just to see how he came into work every day, well prepared, it as like playing along side a coach,” he said. “It was rewarding for me because of his discipline, his mindset, his work ethic. That allowed him to play all those years. He tried to instill it in the people around him.”
Williams said Calvillo’s habit of sitting alone on the bench wasn’t a sign of being aloof.
“He does that, I think, to clear his head and refresh his mindset,” he said. “He calms himself down to where he’s in a good place. He’s doing that as a way of slowing the game down.
“I’ve seen him do that from time to time. He just relaxes himself, then goes back out and throws a 70-yard bomb.”
During his career Buono has coached, and coached against, some of the best quarterbacks who ever played in the CFL. Calvillo is certainly part of that group.
“When you look at him, you look at longevity, you look at consistency, you look at championships,” said Buono. “When you talk about the great quarterbacks in our league he has to be in that conversation.”