Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A.C. must stand for All Class

Calvillo leads Als to Cup win, states he needs surgery

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EDMONTON -- He is a champion. He is a future hall of famer. He is the leader of a Montreal Alouettes team that can now be included among the greatest dynasties in Canadian Football League history.

And now this shocking revelation: Quarterback Anthony Calvillo will need surgery to remove a lesion in his throat that was discovered in August but kept secret until now.

So while his teammates celebrated their 21-18 victory over the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the 98th Grey Cup game -- a decision that makes them the first team to repeat as champions since the 1996-97 Toronto Argonauts and gives them their third title since 2002 -- an emotional Calvillo took to the podium to reveal something he has kept bottled up inside for months.

"After I got hurt against Winnipeg the doctors found something and it's something we're gonna have to take care of," said Calvillo, sporting an Alouettes Grey Cup Grey Cup champions hat. "It's something that's been in the back of my mind. I was going to step away from football but they said it could wait. But it can't wait any longer. So in the next week or so I'm gonna have surgery on my thyroid to remove a lesion and half of my thyroid. They're not sure what it is.

"After the game I didn't want to say a dang thing but the emotions got the better of me. After the Eastern Final it just hit me. Here were are back again having another chance at a championship and once we did it, this thing has been bottled in me for a while. I've only been able to share it with my wife and my close ones. And now I don't have anything else to look forward to on the football field and now I have to look forward to this."

And so it was with that in the back of his mind that the 38-year-old Calvillo rallied to lead his Alouettes to arguably the greatest victory of his career. He didn't throw for a touchdown, but completed 29 of 42 passes for 336 yards and rallied his team.

Doing it, he revealed later, while battling through this emotional weight certainly means his effort will be described as both heroic and courageous.

Doctors discovered the lesion after tests were conducted on his sternum after he was sacked by Winnipeg's Odell Willis in a game in Montreal on Aug. 19. Calvillo wanted to have the surgery immediately, but the medical opinion suggested he could wait until the end of the season before having the procedure done. Carrying that -- his wife Alexia has also fought through her own battle with lymphoma -- and keeping it from everyone but family and close friends in the organization so as it would not serve as a distraction only speaks further to his character.

Anthony Calvillo: Hall of fame player. Hall of fame person.

"The doctors I'm working with said that after they take out the lesion and basically half of my thyroid, that whatever the case may be, whether they find something or not in the lesion, I'll be able to play football next season," he said. "It's something we're gonna have to address when we find out what's wrong inside my throat. When the doctors found it they said it had to be removed but they said it could wait until after the season. We saw three different specialists and they all said the same thing. So now we have to get it done. I'm going to go to California and spend a week with my family and then come back and have surgery.

"It's a large lesion and all the doctors said it couldn't wait for a year. So they'll take half my thyroid out."

Alouettes receiver Jamel Richardson was named the game's MVP -- he pulled in eight passes for 109 yards -- as the Alouettes shook off a mediocre second quarter and two Damon Duval field goal misses for the franchise's seventh championship. This was a team fuelled emotionally by many factors -- including, apparently, a tiny locker-room, a mediocre hotel and the slap in the face from seeing Rider Nation win the Commissioner's Award this week -- but now at least put themselves into the debate of whether they belong in the same sentence as the CFL's legendary squads, from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of 1958-62 to the Edmonton Eskimos of 1978-82.

All of that, of course, will be right there in the CFL record books.

But it's the Calvillo revelation that will shape how the 98th championship -- and one of the league's classiest men -- is forever viewed.

And if, sadly, this was to be his last game then it will be picture of a bittersweet farewell.

"I still enjoy this game," he said. "It's still an amazing feat. I'm still hungry for more even though we just won it. I mean, the passion is still there and to be honest with you, I've got nothing else lined up. We'll evaluate everything, but the big thing is to make sure the lesion comes back benign and I can move forward from there.

"Now that the season's over this is going to hit me. Now the reality is setting in. Life is amazing sometimes. It's strange when you have to deal with the ups and downs. I've always enjoyed playing football and even when my wife was going through her cancer, football was an outlet for me. It got me focussed on something else, allowed me to look forward to something else.

"Now I don't have football any more and the only thing on my mind is to enjoy this victory, enjoy my family and take care of this as soon as possible."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 29, 2010 C1

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