Rolling with the punches

Als quarterback Anthony Calvillo is dealing with adversity this season. (Sun File/Jason Halstead)

Als quarterback Anthony Calvillo is dealing with adversity this season. (Sun File/Jason Halstead)

JIM BENDER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:25 AM ET

Funny, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have not had a quarterback who has thrown for 4,000 yards since Khari Jones was chased out of town.

Yet, when Montreal's Anthony Calvillo fell below the 5,000-yard mark for the first time in five years last season, some wondered aloud if the Alouettes' leader was washed up. And he was fewer than 300 yards short!

"The expectations I put on myself and the ones we put on ourselves as a winning organization brings out that kind of criticism," Calvillo said in a telephone interview from Montreal recently. "But I don't take it personally. It happens when you have established yourself as a winning team.

"And I don't think it was a failure not to reach 5,000 again, because no one has ever done it (five straight seasons)."

The 14-year veteran, however, has learned to roll with the punches.

"A quarterback has got to deal with ups and downs," he told the Montreal Gazette. "But I'm mentally tough enough to deal with my play and what people say. I've been playing 14 years. The media's written good and bad things.

"Some people like me and some don't. That's part of sports. If it affected me, I wouldn't be able to concentrate and my career would be over." Although the Als finished first in the East with a 10-8 record last year, it was a turbulent season, marked by rumours of mentor Don Matthews' demise and, ultimately, GM Jim Popp taking over as head coach.

"The thing I was most upset about last year is that I wasn't consistent enough," said Calvillo, who completed 402 of 640 passes for 4,714 yards (62.8%) and 20 touchdowns.

Some actually chalked it up to the fact that Montreal offensive co-ordinator Doug Berry had taken over the coaching reins in Winnipeg and Calvillo missed him.

"Obviously, it's tough when you lose your offensive co-ordinator," Calvillo conceded. "You have to adjust to a new system, and you have to adjust to a new guy." Calvillo, 35, eventually adjusted well, leading the Als back into the Grey Cup game, which they lost to B.C.

"It just goes to show what you can do if you play well at the right time," he said.

Berry remains a believer in the East L.A., Calif., native.

"What I liked about Anthony was that he was always a good decision-maker and he'd do enough in the scrambling game to make the defence work," Berry said.

COMPLETE UNDERSTANDING

"So much of it has to do with having a complete understanding of the offence ... Anthony's a very bright quarterback, and he would always be detailed in what he did and his understanding of the game and be suggestive in terms of things that might make us better. And that's what I see now in what (Bomber quarterback) Kevin (Glenn) has developed into."

Calvillo, who is breaking in a new offensive co-ordinator (Marcel Bellefueille) is on the verge of making his own mark on CFL history.

He needs 287 yards to become only the fourth quarterback to pass for a total of 50,000 career yards (Toronto quarterback Damon Allen leads with more than 70,000). Not only that, but sometime this season Calvillo could move into second spot on the CFL's all-time completions mark (Allen also holds top spot in that category). And he needs only three TD tosses to move past Doug Flutie into the top five in total touchdown passes thrown (and guess who is the all-time leader there? Yes, Allen).

"When you've played for a long time and on a winning team, and you stay consistent, all those things can add up," said Calvillo, who was only aware of closing in on the 50,000-yard milestone. "I am very grateful to the team and to the players who have been around me." And his teammates are thankful to have had a QB like Calvillo to lead them.

"His record speaks for itself," veteran centre Bryan Chiu told the Gazette.

"He's our leader. He's taken us to five Grey Cup games, has been an MVP and won a Grey Cup. Everyone questions him, but any team in the league would give anything to have him." Although Calvillo turns 35 in August, he plans to keep on chuckin'.

"As long as my body feels good and I still enjoy the game and can help the team, I'll keep playing," he said. "And one thing I'm excited about this year is that we have a lot of new, talented athletes with us. They're young and fresh, and we're all trying to learn a brand new system together."


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