Blue Bomber Report Record: 6–3–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Is Calvillo kaput?

Don't bet on it -- the Bombers sure aren't

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MONTREAL -- If you annually make the exact same prediction, sooner or later you're bound to be right.

And the tantalizing question heading into Week 2 of the 2012 CFL regular season is: Might this finally be the season when the skeptics who every year predict Montreal Alouettes QB Anthony Calvillo is too old to compete at an elite level are finally proven right?

Calvillo will turn 40 later this season -- that's 800 in quarterback years -- and the talk that he may finally have exceeded his best before date has been renewed by what was a shockingly poor performance by the Montreal offence generally, and Calvillo in particular, in a 38-10 thrashing at the hands of the Calgary Stampeders last Sunday. Calvillo was just 16-of-31 for 174 yards, one TD and two very costly interceptions in the loss to Calgary.

Now, to be sure, that is a sampling of just one game -- and a season-opening game at that.

But the Montreal loss to Calgary last weekend actually was the part of a disturbing trend for Calvillo and the Alouettes, representing the fifth loss in a row for the Alouettes, going back to the four-game losing streak they had to end last season -- which included a 52-44 loss to Hamilton in the East semifinal.

And not only have the Als been losing, they've been losing badly, getting outscored 191-107 in that five-game losing streak.

Put it together and if the Als beat the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Stade Molson tonight, it will be their first win in six games -- not exactly the stuff of the juggernaut that represented the East in the 2008, 2009 and 2010 Grey Cups, winning two of them.

"The biggest thing as a professional," Calvillo said Thursday during his club's pre-game media availability, "is you have to move on, forget about what just happened and then get back to the level where you need to be."

The answer to the question about whether Calvillo can get back to that level is, of course, one with critical implications for the Bombers. According to CFL head statistician Steve Daniel, the Bombers and Alouettes had the tightest season series of any two teams in the CFL last season, with the three games between the teams decided by a combined total of just nine points.

The Bombers won two of those three regular-season games in 2011 and that head-to-head margin represented the tiebreaker in how the Bombers finished first ahead of the Alouettes and got to host the East final on a frozen field at Canad Inns Stadium at which they ultimately punched their ticket to the Grey Cup.

And so if Calvillo has finally lost a step -- or even half a step, given the razor thin margin of difference between the two teams in 2011 -- the difference could mean everything this season to a Bombers club that looks, at least in the initial stages, like they're going to need every break they can get in 2012.

But counting out Calvillo over the years has been a fool's game, as the Los Angeles native has long confounded his critics with his longevity at the game's most punishing position. The fact Calvillo is now in his 19th CFL season seems impossible enough; what's truly astounding is that he continues to compete at the very highest level.

His nomination last season as most outstanding player in the East Division was the seventh such honour in his career -- and fourth in the last four years. And on top of that, Calvillo also eclipsed Damon Allen in 2011 to become pro football's all-time leading passer with 73,412 yards by season's end.

And so ask the Winnipeg defenders whether they're expecting tonight to see the Calvillo of the last few games or the Calvillo of the last few years and there is no hesitation in the answer. "When you lose a game like they did last week, especially a veteran quarterback like that, I expect him to come out ready for a challenge and to be very up-tempo," Bombers cornerback Jovon Johnson said Thursday. "Montreal wasn't hitting on all cylinders last week and they sure didn't look like the Montreal of old. But he's still a great quarterback and I expect he'll be coming out hard."

As for Calvillo, he seemed genuinely befuddled by his team's uncharacteristic struggles.

"I can't give you a quick answer or say this is the reason why. We just did not perform up to our level," Calvillo said. "As a veteran group it's disappointing."

The biggest question in the CFL this year is whether it's a blip, or just one of a lot more disappointments to come for Calvillo in 2012.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

more week 2 coverage on C2-3

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 6, 2012 C1

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