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Naylor: Calvillo reveals secret amidst Grey Cup celebration

David Naylor
11/29/2010 12:34:08 AM
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Anthony Calvillo had no plan to break the news amid the Grey Cup celebration, to tell the country what had been weighing on his mind since summer.

But the emotion had been bottled up since the time the doctors told him about a lesion on his thyroid, followed by a biopsy that had proved inconclusive.

Football became a refuge, a distraction that allowed him not to think about the uncertainty.

Thyroid cancer isn't as dangerous as other forms of the disease. Most often it comes with a 97 per cent cure rate.

But in the euphoria of capturing his third Grey Cup title, Calvillo – who had seemed unusually emotional after the Eastern Final one week earlier -- let his secret out.

"That emotion (after the Eastern Final), that's where it came from," said Calvillo. "I didn't want to be a distraction. The best scenario was to keep it quiet and go on. But it's been building up and it needed to come out. It was not intentionally, but it came out."

A few of his teammates knew what Calvillo had been dealing with, most did not.

Kerry Carter knew because Calvillo had shared it during bible study. They had prayed about it but Carter said they hadn't discussed the detail much. Eric Wilson knew because him and Calvillo liked to smoke cigars every now and then and a few weeks ago his teammate told him he was going to take a pass.

But for most of his teammates, it came as a shock amid the flying champagne and beer.

"He's the most focused professional I've ever known," said offensive lineman Andrew Woodruff. "I didn't know. That's why he is who he is."

This isn't the first time Calvillo has had to deal with uncertainty in his life. Three years ago his wife, Alexia, was diagnosed with lymphoma. Calvillo walked away from the end of the 2007 season, then took the off-season to consider his future based on her prognosis.

When his wife's health improved, he's returned to the game by reaching three consecutive Grey Cup games, winning two Most Outstanding Player awards and being a runner-up for a third.

The 2010 Grey Cup wasn't his finest performance but his management of the offence during the second half, when the Alouettes controlled the clock and kept Saskatchewan's defence on the field for most of the second half, was superb.

Most importantly, during a year in which he threw just seven interceptions during the regular season, Calvillo didn't throw a single one in the playoffs. And it turns out that was the difference, when Saskatchewan committed the only turnover of the game late in the fourth quarter while driving towards a tying field goal.

But less than an hour after the game, Calvillo's throwing accuracy seemed less impressive than the way he'd composed himself for the season amid a real-life distraction.

"It started hitting me as the season came to an end," said Calvillo. "Football was a big distraction to not think about it. But it's been pressing on my heart and mind. And now that I have no more football to think about this is on the top of my mind."

Anthony Calvillo is a champion and might be considered the greatest quarterback to ever play in the CFL when all is said and done. But his next challenge is a life challenge, one over which he'll have less control than he does in the huddle.

While during a normal off-season we might turn our thought so what records might lie ahead for him, and whether as he moves towards his 40th birthday he can keep up the level of play he's so consistently displayed.

But those things won't matter for a while. Not for at least a month when Calvillo undergoes surgery and finds out whether his lesion is benign or malignant. Not before he knows that his challenges in the game of life can be overcome can he or we fully turn attention back to football.

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