Calvillo, Als just seem too good to lose

Staff ~ The Telegram
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Then again, that didn't lead to them winning last year

At a Masters Tournament sometime in the mid-1990s, Tom Watson was asked what he thought of the cabbage-soup diet Jack Nicklaus had adopted in an effort to shed weight late in his career.

Expected to remark on how great Nicklaus looked and how well he was swinging the club, Watson merely cracked: "I'd hate to play behind him."

Anthony Calvillo

At a Masters Tournament sometime in the mid-1990s, Tom Watson was asked what he thought of the cabbage-soup diet Jack Nicklaus had adopted in an effort to shed weight late in his career.

Expected to remark on how great Nicklaus looked and how well he was swinging the club, Watson merely cracked: "I'd hate to play behind him."

Which is kind of what skeptical scribes think of the new, improved, lighter, stronger, more energetic Anthony Calvillo, who believes that his high-tech twist on Jack's cabbage-soup diet - the Quanta Biomatrix Training Program, by its commercial name - is the X-factor that's going to carry him and the Montreal Alouettes to the promised land.

The Alouettes have been down this road before, and left their believers - notably those who picked them to win any of the six previous Grey Cup games they've been in since Calvillo and the turn of the Millennium arrived - holding bagfuls of empty promises after five of them.

So it may take more than a quarterback giving up pasta and dairy and Coca-Cola and doing some deep knee-bends and sit-ups in the off-season to convince the doubters that a newly svelte Calvillo is the cure for all that has ailed the Larks in Grey Cup nightmares past.

But damn, he's making it hard.

When the 37-year-old veteran campaigner lifted the Gibson's Finest award as the most outstanding CFL player of 2009 Thursday night at the Telus Convention Centre - a coronation more than a contest, for he was undeniably the best - it was difficult to imagine him being on the losing end of the Grey Cup game Sunday against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Not impossible, mind you. Just difficult.

The numbers, both his and the Alouettes', are too overwhelming to ignore.

Calvillo completed an eye-popping 72 per cent of his passes (only Dave Dickenson's 73.98 per cent in 2005 was ever better), with 26 touchdowns and only six interceptions. And the 15-3 Als scored 276 more points than they allowed, a differential that buried all comers. Calgary at plus-71 was closest, and Saskatchewan was third at plus-30.

And just for emphasis, they blew the B.C. Lions away 58-16 in the East Division final.

And yet . . . and yet . . .

"I'm just very fortunate to have another opportunity to continue to write my legacy," Calvillo said Thursday, his lines well-rehearsed. "I've had some opportunities to win championships, and the record is something people are always going to talk about . . . I'm just happy to have a chance to correct it, by winning another one."

One of the very few remnants of the CFL's short-lived U.S. expansion in the early-to-mid-1990s, Calvillo career didn't look all that promising in the days when he was lining up in his equipment to eat at the buffet alongside the gambling grannies at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, or especially during the leanest of all times, his painful epoch as Ron Lancaster's whipping boy in Hamilton.

"You know, it's like one of those deep, bad childhood memories that you want to block out, but it's always there," a grinning Calvillo said. "But really, I like what (Lions') Casey Printers said a couple of weeks ago - I truly believe that experience made me a stronger person, because you had no choice but to be mentally strong. It helped get me to where I am today."

Where he is, of course, is No. 2 to Damon Allen in most of the career passing categories . . . but 1-5 in Grey Cups. The six appearances is impressive. The five losses, not so much.

Which is maybe why he embarked on a blood analysis, radical change of diet and exercise program that has allowed him to arrive at the end of a season full of energy for a change, and not beat up and tired.

Thursday, for example, the menu for the Als' team meal with the media consisted of two different pasta dishes, Italian sausage and salad. Calvillo had the salad, and water.

"Last year, I would get up at 5 in the morning, and by 8 or 9 at night I was exhausted and gone to bed," he said. "This year, I'm going to bed between 10 and 11 and not tired whatsoever, so I can feel the difference in my body and my mind, where in the game I'm not as tired - and it's when you're tired that you make your mistakes.

"In years past, by the end of the season, my body tended to break down. This year, I feel great. Last week, after the (B.C.) game I felt like I could have gone out and played another one."

The change in Calvillo isn't the whole story, of course. It's everyone's second year under Marc Trestman's offensive system and blocking schemes, and it's all looked very integrated, very same-page this season.

Does it mean that this time, finally, will be the charm for Montreal? They all sound confident, and the quarterback most of all, but then, when have they not?

"I've thought every year that we've gone into the game, we had a chance to win," Calvillo said. "Reflecting back, when we played B.C. in 2006, we were very up and down, and B.C. had a very strong team - and that was the one time I thought in order for us to win, we would have to have our best game, period.

"But in every other Grey Cup, I thought we had a chance."

And this one?

"I'm just grateful to have this opportunity - and that's all I can ask, at this point in my career," he said. "But if it ended today, without this game, I'd be a very happy man with what I've achieved."

Vancouver Sun

Organizations: CFL, Montreal Alouettes, Coca-Cola Telus Convention Centre East Division MGM Grand

Geographic location: Calgary, Saskatchewan, U.S. Las Vegas Hamilton Montreal Vancouver

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