The respect for Anthony Calvillo stretches into the nether reaches of the Argos locker room and it's not just because the Montreal Alouettes quarterback has, at the age of 35, regained his prolific touch.
Inspired by his wife's fight against cancer, Calvillo has thrown the Alouettes to the top of the East Division with 17 touchdown passes and a completion rate that is a shade below the league's best.
"It's probably the most anticipated year I have had in my life," Calvillo said yesterday at a downtown hotel after the Alouettes arrived in Toronto ahead of tonight's game against the Argos at the Rogers Centre.
"I was looking forward to getting back on the field and I know my wife was, too. I look at what she had to go through, and the fact that I am close to the end of my career, and I definitely appreciate what I am doing.
"It's not that I took stuff for granted in the past, but I am taking it to heart. I'm really absorbing everything."
The Argos (3-4) can move back into first place in the East Division with a victory against the 4-3 Als, but a Montreal win would increase its margin in the East as the group heads into a bye week. It's the season's first meeting of the clubs, who split four games a year ago.
Calvillo's wife, Alexia Kontolemos, was diagnosed with lymphoma last fall and began chemotherapy. Calvillo left the Alouettes late last season to give Alexia, a Montreal native, and their two young daughters, his full support. Ten months later, she has finished radiation therapy and only some bloodwork remains before she officially is in remission.
"She is doing really well," Calvillo said. "We have always talked about looking forward to something else besides her treatment plan. That is what football brought to our family."
Coupled with an offensive line that is giving him much more protection under the eye of new coach Marc Trestman, Calvillo has passed for 2,269 yards, trailing only the 2,389 put up by Ricky Ray of the Edmonton Eskimos. No less than 68% of his passes have been caught, second among starters behind Henry Burris of the Calgary Stampeders.
"From what he went through, you really have a sense of joy to see him have success," Argos quarterback Kerry Joseph said. "You have to be mentally strong. He put his family first and still got his job done. It's good for the game, for him, for his teammates. You have to give him two thumbs up."
"I'm excited to go against them and play in our backyard," Argos nose tackle Adriano Belli said. "We have to come out with a win, especially after last week. If everyone shows up and makes the best effort, we feel confident in our chances."
Calvillo's attention to detail has impressed Trestman, who built his coaching career in the NFL, mostly as an offensive co-ordinator and quarterbacks coach.
"I love him because he is a gym rat," Trestman said. "He is in every day at 6 o'clock in the morning. It's a full-time job for him, I can tell you that. He transcends the locker room and everybody loves him."