Als well with Calvillo

RANDY SPORTAK -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:20 AM ET

Anthony Calvillo's smile was as wide as a CFL field.

"I got to show you this," he said while unbuttoning his jacket to display his tie. "A birthday present."

On the underside of Calvillo's tie was a picture of his daughters: Athena-Sonia and Olivia Christina.

Any proud papa would be thrilled to display such a prize. For the Montreal Alouettes star quarterback, though, it's a special reminder, proof how high his life has bounced back.

It was just under a year ago, shortly after his younger daughter was born, Calvillo's wife Alexia Kontolemos was diagnosed with B-cell lymphoma. It should have been a time of joy and happiness in the Calvillo household, but instead that was pushed into the background while she battled for her life.

Eleven months later, that nightmare is well in the past ("She's doing awesome, done with her treatment," he happily reported), and Calvillo is back to being one of the best quarterbacks in the CFL.

With a different attitude, too.

"To see your wife struggle for her life and see the strength she had through the whole process puts football in perspective," said the 36-year-old pivot. "Especially if you have two young kids at home."

There's something to be said about being happy.

Calvillo's birth certificate would indicate his career should be on the down turn, but tell that to the rest of the CFL.

Heading into tonight's clash with the Calgary Stampeders, Calvillo is enjoying a renaissance season. He's led the 7-3 Alouettes by throwing for 3,248 yards (completing 67.7% of his passes) and a league-best 24 touchdowns, with only five interceptions, and has a QB rating of 108.4, tops in the CFL.

The Als have the best offence in the league, scored the most points, scored the most touchdowns and are running away with the East Division crown.

He's easily the East Division's most outstanding player.

Just imagine, there was a time in the off-season Calvillo considered hanging up the cleats for good.

"There was a point they had to change up her treatments and it was going to be very hard on her, so there was a week I wasn't sure if I was going to come back," he said. "The last thing I wanted to do was step away from the team.

"That was one hard week to sit down and talk about our future."

The decision, for which Alouettes fans can rejoice, was he'd return and commit to the squad like never before.

"Once we committed to come back to the organization, I was jumping to get back on the field," he said. "I knew how close I was to not coming back and I am getting closer to the end of my career. The things I'm doing now, I really appreciate it. I know it's going to be over one day, and at this time, I want to enjoy it."

He's had plenty to enjoy, and not just victories.

In a June game against Hamilton, he passed Danny McManus to become the second all-time leading passer in CFL history. In July, he became the fourth quarterback to reach 300 career touchdown passes.

Last month, Calvillo became the second quarterback to reach 4,000 career pass completions.

Those are major milestones that he's learned to appreciate achieving.

"In the past, I wouldn't think about it too much. When people would ask me about it, I'd give the answer, 'I'm gonna worry about that, think about that in the off-season' but now I don't," he said. "Week in and week out, there's something new that's coming out and it blows me away. I knew how close I was to (retiring) and to come out and be successful as a team, as we are right now, makes football more fun."

Amazingly, even with those achievements, you'd be hard-pressed to hear Calvillo's name tossed around when you bring up the CFL's all-time greats.

For all he's accomplished -- toss in the 2003 Most Outstanding Player honour, a couple of all-star team selections and the 2002 Grey Cup title -- names like Doug Flutie, Ron Lancaster, Damon Allen, Russ Jackson and Warren Moon would likely be tossed out before Calvillo's.

Reminded of that, he's philosophical.

"My career's not over yet. It's still being written. A lot of guys you mention are retired," he said.

"I'm still writing my football career. It's not over."

Jeremaine Copeland, the Stampeder receiver who teamed up to succeed with Calvillo for a few seasons in Montreal, believes the Als quarterback deserves more credit.

"From my standpoint, he is one of those top guys, and that's why I always say he's a Hall-of-Famer without question. There's no doubt about it. I think he's executed what he needs to," Copeland siad. "I think the advantage that Flutie and guys like that have on him is maybe more Grey Cups? I don't know, maybe that could be what it is. But he still has one, I know for sure. It happened in 2002 when I was with him. So he's got that championship under his belt and whenever I say his name, I absolutely put him up there with everybody else."


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