Calvillo's clan

Last year, Anthony Calvillo left the Alouettes to be with his wife, who was battling cancer. (Sun...

Last year, Anthony Calvillo left the Alouettes to be with his wife, who was battling cancer. (Sun Media/Jim Wells)

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:47 AM ET

Anthony Calvillo can't help but laugh at the concept of the tough questions he'll be forced to face this week.

They'll be about rest versus rust, about not having played in three weeks.

They'll be about the pressure of having to win this weekend to get the Alouettes into next week's Grey Cup game in Montreal or having Ricky Ray and the Edmonton Eskimos move into their dressing room Grey Cup week.

Last year, the questions were tougher.

Would his wife Alexia live?

Would he be left raising two kids, including a newborn baby girl, on his own?

Would he ever play football again?

LEFT IN STRETCH

Last year, Calvillo had left the Alouettes without his services as they went down the stretch and into the playoffs.

This year, the Montreal quarterback came back, had as good a season as he's ever had and is about to collect the hardware as the CFL's most outstanding player.

Far more than any other player on either team, 36-year-old Anthony Calvillo has his name on this game before the opening kickoff.

"I feel blessed," said A.C., returning my call yesterday prior to Alouettes team meetings to begin preparations to play Edmonton in the Eastern final while the Eskimos were meeting here, mostly trying to figure out a way to stop Anthony Calvillo.

"I had the bye week to think about where we are as a family compared to where we were last year," he said. "My wife and I were talking about it, about how fortunate we are to be in this situation, not only in football but in our own personal lives."

Calvillo didn't feel so blessed last year.

"One week after our daughter Olivia was born on Oct. 15, they were doing some tests and discovered that my wife had a massive tumour in her chest. Hearing that news at the hospital was devastating with not knowing what it meant for her and now having two kids at home. It was the toughest thing she and our entire family has had to go through."

Having to leave his football family in the most important stretch of the season wasn't something that required any thought, he said.

"Once we found out the news, that my wife had cancer, I told the Alouettes, 'I can't come back right now.' My main concern was my wife, our new baby and our daughter Athena. At that moment, football didn't matter to me."

It wasn't that he was abandoning the Alouettes. To keep playing football would have been to abandon his family.

The response from the football family blew him away.

"People talk of football teams as family but I always thought of that as lip service," said Calvillo. "And I never realized there was such a thing as the CFL family, at least not like it was revealed to us.

"It was overwhelming, truly overwhelming. We received support messages, more than 2,000 of them from throughout Canada. We read every single one. They all took football out of the equation."

Calvillo stayed at home the entire time.

"I was the one who got up all through the night with the baby, but my wife's family, from here in Montreal, were over living with us. We all wanted to make sure she got all the rest in the world.

"She's done all the chemo and radiation. She's doing excellent."

Calvillo is headed into the playoffs experiencing the joy of football like never before.

"My intention was always that I wanted to come back and get back to life. My wife wanted us to be looking forward to more than her next chemotherapy treatment. But I wanted to be mentally able to handle the situation if she had to go back to the hospital."

Having all that time in the off-season to think resulted in Calvillo coming back with a different perspective.

"This was the first year I really took everything to heart. Now I know all the records and where I stand. Before, I wouldn't think about it. Now I'm thankful. I knew how close I was to not coming back."

He also thought about Grey Cups.

He's been in five Grey Cup games in the 2000s winning only one of them.

"Without a doubt, one of the things I've been thinking about is 'How many more chances am I going to get?' "

Calvillo doesn't know the answer to that. But he knows the answer to the question: How many chances will he get to play one in Montreal?

"This opportunity isn't likely to come around again. I have to take advantage of this."

HEARTBREAKER

It seems such a shame the Eskimos, who have managed to beat Montreal in eight of 11 Grey Cup games, are headed to Montreal intent on taking that opportunity away from him like they have twice before, including the heartbreaker in double overtime in 2005. Then again, that one Grey Cup he did win was against the Eskimos in Commonwealth Stadium.


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