MONTREAL — Outside of family and friends in his native Los Angeles and some classmates from Utah State University, Anthony Calvillo has often been referred to in the United States as the best quarterback you’ve never heard of.
But the 39-year-old’s name should have a wider reach after he set the record for career passing yards in all of pro football Monday.
The Los Angeles Times ran a front page story Tuesday on his rise from a tough neighbourhood to football greatness after a reporter watched him set the record in Monday’s 29-19 win over Toronto with Calvillo’s family in East L.A. His feat was also featured prominently on television across the U.S.
The record, which includes both the CFL and NFL, and the attention he has received had a tired looking Calvillo using the word “mindboggling” a lot a day after the feat.
“It’s still mindboggling to get all the texts and messages from friends and family back home and that they got a chance to see it was sweet,” he said.
“It is nice to see that all the things that not only me but all CFL players have been able to accomplish up here get recognized. That’s pretty special because it’s something I always thought was overlooked.”
The future Hall of Famer went into the game needing 258 passing yards to eclipse the career total of 72,381 amassed over 23 seasons by Damon Allen, who retired from the Argonauts after the 2007 campaign. Calvillo ended the day with 305 for a total of 72,429 yards and counting.
It was tough slogging against a tight Toronto defence and it took until the final play of the third quarter to make history. Calvillo’s short toss to top receiver Jamel Richardson looked like an innocent play until he broke a tackle and took the ball 50 yards into the end zone.
In his excitement at scoring, Richardson fired the historic ball into the Percival Molson Stadium seats, but the unknown fan who caught it threw it back so Calvillo could hold on to his keepsake from the game.
Now Calvillo wants to find that fan and give him or her a token of his appreciation.
“I hope he turns up and I hope it’s the right person instead of someone pretending it was him because those are memories that are going to stick with me,” he said. “The ball I have is because of this individual who gave the ball back. We’ll replace it with a different ball but yeah, it’s definitely something special and I’m very thankful.
“It’s going to be implanted in my head the rest of my life, that particular moment. The fact that when Jamel scored the touchdown, it put me over the edge and to do it here at home and to be No. 1 of all time, it’s mindboggling. My life flashed in front of me — all the sacrifices my family made for me growing up, my brother and sister, all those things.”
Calvillo had broken Allen’s records for TD passes and pass completions early in the season, but the passing yards record was the big one and the only one that stopped a game for an on-field presentation.
Calvillo stood with his wife Alexia and their two daughters to receive a tribute from CFL commissioner Mark Cohon. There were accolades on a scoreboard presentation of taped messages from some of the other quarterbacks who have held the record — Dan Marino from the NFL, Warren Moon from the CFL and the NFL, and Allen. U.S. football broadcaster Chris Berman also joined in.
“It was awesome to see Dan Marino and Warren Moon recognize the things that Canadian football players have been able to accomplish,” Calvillo said. “That’s what hit home with me because I don’t think there are a lot of people that know what goes on up here in this wonderful league.
Calvillo didn’t know much himself when he played at Utah State in the early 1990s.
It as his quarterbacks coach, former NFL pivot Jim Zorn who had once been a Winnipeg Blue Bomber, and head coach and former Edmonton Eskimo Charlie Weatherby, who suggested he try the CFL.
At just over six-foot-one and 200 pounds, Calvillo had drawn no interest from NFL clubs, so he contacted an agent who came back with an offer from the Las Vegas Posse, one of teams that popped up during the CFL’s brief expansion into the U.S.
He made the team and, at 21, began his CFL career with a team that lasted one year. He spent three more difficult seasons win Hamilton, where he threw 44 passes for touchdowns and had 44 intercepted, before deciding to move on.
He had offers from Saskatchewan and Montreal, and opted to become Tracy Ham’s understudy with the Alouettes.
“I signed here because I knew they had so much talent that they’re always going to have a chance to win,” he said. “They didn’t need just me to win week in and week out.
“Something I enjoy is that I’ve been able to stay here for what is my 14th year now.”