Als optimistic Calvillo will beat thyroid problem and return

The Canadian Press
11/29/2010 6:31:17 PM
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MONTREAL -- Quarterback Anthony Calvillo says he is confident a thyroid problem will not prevent him from returning next season to shoot for a third straight Grey Cup.

The 17-year CFL veteran made the shock announcement after leading the team to a 21-18 victory over Saskatchewan in the Grey Cup game Sunday that he will need surgery to remove a lesion from his thyroid gland.

"The doctors stressed that, if they find something or not, I'll be back playing on the football field, so that's the encouraging point," the 38-year-old said as the team landed at Trudeau airport from Edmonton with the Grey Cup in hand.

"It's not a major issue, but it's something I have to take care of. The doctors just said they'll take half my thyroid out and then we'll see what it is."

It had been feared that if doctors found the lesion to be cancerous that he may not come back for the 2011 season.

"That's something I didn't want to happen -- the scare of the word cancer," Calvillo added. "It's not a major ordeal."

A lesion was found on Calvillo's gland during tests taken while he was in hospital after suffering a bruised sternum in a game in August. A biopsy was inconclusive. After being examined by three specialists, it was decided to remove part of his thyroid.

Calvillo, whose wife Alexia battled cancer successfully in 2007, said he thought about taking time off football but was assured by doctors the surgery could wait.

Asked if he expected Calvillo to be back next season if all goes well, general manager Jim Popp said: "Based on what he's said, yes. But I'm not him."

Calvillo told coach Marc Trestman and team management about it, but otherwise only told a few teammates who attend the team Bible study group he leads.

"As the season came to an end, I'd speak to the team and I'd start crying," he said. "A lot of guys didn't know what I was going through.

"I'd say 'you never know when your last game is going to be or when you'll get another chance for a championship.' This was building up in me the last three or four weeks and after the last game, it just came out."

The team has final meetings Tuesday and a parade through downtown on Wednesday. Then Calvillo is to take a week off in his native California with his family and return to Montreal for the surgery.

"He told us about it in Bible study," said running back Avon Cobourne. "We knew it was serious, but he made light of it.

"We knew he'd keep playing. That's the resolve of A.C. That's why he's a champion."

Popp was not surprised that, despite the anxiety of not knowing exactly what was wrong, Calvillo was able to stay calm and help win a second Cup in a row and the third of his career.

"He's a strong man -- a remarkable guy," Popp said. "Him and his wife and family.

"He's grown consistently ever since he joined the organization (as a free agent from Hamilton in 1998). He's a great leader. The things he's faced and battled have made him stronger."

Popp would not speculate on what the team would do without Calvillo, whether to make a deal for an experienced starter or go with the backups. Adrian McPherson has shown flashes that he may be ready to become a starter, but Chris Leak struggled in his only start during Calvillo's injury. They also have experienced backup Ricky Santos on hand.

In 2007, Calvillo took leave from the team for the final four games of the season to help his wife with her battle with B-cell lymphoma. The couple, who have two young daughters, have since become active spokesmen and fundraisers for cancer causes.

The Los Angeles native has not spoken or played like someone contemplating retirement this season.

He missed two games with his injury and also didn't play in the meaningless final game of the regular season, but still was fourth in the league with 4,839 passing yards and 32 touchdowns while throwing only seven interceptions. His quarterback rating of 108.1 was best in the CFL.

The future Hall of Famer is also approaching career records set over 23 seasons by Damon Allen that would likely be passed in one more full season. Calvillo's 68,161 career regular season passing yards are just 4,220 short of Allen's mark, and his 386 TD passes are only eight shy of the record. He needs 118 completions to tie Allen's 5,158.

He has reached those numbers with 1,006 fewer pass attempts than Allen.

Calvillo broke into the CFL in 1994 with the defunct Las Vegas Posse and played three seasons in Hamilton before joining the Alouettes as Tracy Ham's understudy.

He was named the CFL's outstanding player in 2003, 2008 and 2009 and has played in eight Grey Cup games since 2000.

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