Anthony Calvillo and Tracy Ham are together again.
Calvillo credits Ham with resurrecting his CFL career with the Montreal Alouettes, and Wednesday night Calvillo followed his mentor into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, securing induction in his first year of eligibility. Ham retired after the 1999 season and was inducted in 2010.
“When I got to Montreal, I had to take a step back and rebuild everything inside me,” Calvillo said. “I give a lot of credit for much of that to Tracy Ham for opening up my eyes on how a real experienced, championship quarterback should conduct himself on and off the field.
“Also, the mental preparation that came with being successful week in and week out.”
Calvillo signed with Montreal following three difficult seasons in Hamilton. He began his CFL career in ’94 with Las Vegas but went to the Tiger-Cats first overall in the expansion draft after the Posse folded following their first season of operation.
Hamilton had high hopes for Calvillo but released the Los Angeles native following the ’97 campaign. Calvillo started 26 games over three seasons with the Ticats, completing 56.9 per cent of his passes for 7,579 yards with 44 TDs and 45 interceptions.
Calvillo signed as a free agent with Montreal and learned under Ham, a two-time Grey Cup champion.
“The biggest thing was just the respect the guys had for him in the locker-room,” Calvillo said. “And the reason they respected him so much was because of the extra hard work he’d put in, showing up three hours before practice and watching film.
“He taught me what to look for and he challenged me, which were huge steps.”
Calvillo started 14 games over the next two seasons before taking over on a full-time basis in 2000. Over the next 14 seasons, Calvillo led the Alouettes to eight Grey Cup appearances, winning three.
Three times he was named the CFL’s outstanding player and threw for over 5,000 yards in a season on seven occasions. And in 2011, Calvillo became pro football’s all-time passing leader.
But Calvillo retired following the 2013 campaign after suffering a season-ending concussion. Calvillo left the CFL with the most passing yards (79,816), touchdowns (455), completions (5,892), attempts (9,437) and Grey Cup passing yards (2,470) in league history.
The numbers are more impressive when considering Calvillo knew little about Canadian football when he joined the expansion Posse.
“The one less down wasn’t an issue for me,” Calvillo said. “What really stood out though was the size of the field.
“To me, that was the biggest thing because the ball was going to be in the air a bit longer than it would normally when you were making certain throws. The extra guy, you had to deal with him, but that also wasn’t a huge issue. To me, it was the size of the field.”
It’s not the championships, awards or accolades that stand out most in Calvillo’s mind regarding his career. It was his longevity.
“I took pride in playing at a certain standard that I created for myself, that’s what allowed me to play for so many years,” Calvillo said. “I made sure I improved and stayed on top of my game, especially late in my career.
“To me, those last five, six years really stand out.”
Calvillo also credited owner Robert Wetenhall, longtime GM Jim Popp (now with the Toronto Argonauts) and former president Larry Smith with laying the foundation for Montreal’s success.
“They set a standard that was going to be met year in and year out and they made sure the players and coaching staff were accountable to that,” Calvillo said. “Guys took pride in winning, they just didn’t accept losing and you could see that paid off for us.”
After taking a year away from football following his retirement, Calvillo returned to the Alouettes in ’15 as receivers’ coach. He’s currently the club’s quarterbacks coach under head coach Jacques Chapdelaine, who’ll also serve as offensive co-ordinator, the post-Calvillo held last season.
The ’17 season will also mark head coach Marc Trestman’s return to the CFL with Toronto. Trestman’s first stint in Canada was with Montreal (2008-12) and included two Grey Cup championships before becoming the Chicago Bears’ head coach in 2013.
Calvillo thrived under Trestman, a noted quarterback guru. Calvillo completed over 60 per cent of his passes in each of his five seasons with Trestman and had a career-high 43 TD passes in 2008.
“The biggest thing with Marc was he really had the pulse of the locker-room,” Calvillo said. “He knew when to get on us, he knew when to let us be, he knew when to bring us up and down.
“I’ve never really been around a coach who did that on a consistent basis. It just reminds me how important the head coach is to your organization because he leads you and everybody has to follow.”