From a training camp tryout in a parking lot with a team called the Las Vegas Posse to becoming the all-time passing leader in the Canadian Football League, Montreal Alouettes quarterback Anthony Calvillo can only look at his career and think: "Wow."
The 18-year veteran made history in spectacular fashion on Monday when his 50-yard toss and run touchdown to Jemal Richardson clinched a 29-19 victory over the Toronto Argonauts.
Calvillo went into the game needing 258 yards to break Damon Allen's all-time record of 72,381 yards. It took until the final play of the third quarter to eclipse it when he made the short toss to Richardson and saw his favourite receiver break a tackle and take it in for the touchdown.
"The play before, I happened to see the big screen where they showed it was 45 yards I needed," a clearly emotional Calvillo said later. "When he broke the tackle I thought this might be it, so I was running down.
"I was excited because we were struggling offensively and needed to score, but then it kind of sank in that this was the pass that broke the record."
CFL career passing yardage leaders
|1. Anthony Calvillo|
|2. Damon Allen|
|3. Danny McManus||53,165|
|4. Ron Lancaster||50,535|
|5. Matt Dunigan||43,857|
It didn't dawn on Richardson, who tossed the ball into the crowd, but luckily a fan threw the historic ball back to serve as a memento of Calvillo's growing collection of records.
Play was stopped for 10 minutes for an onfield celebration that included Calvillo's family, Allen and CFL commissioner Mark Cohon, who urged the 39-year-old to "please keep playing, at least a few more years."
Calvillo went 26 for 38 for 305 yards to bring his career total to 72,429 going into his next game Sunday against Hamilton.
There were taped tributes on the scoreboard from some of the sport's best quarterbacks, including Warren Moon, who threw for 70,553 yards in both the CFL and the NFL, Dan Marino who passed for 61,361 in the NFL and Allen. There was also a shot of Brett Favre, who piled up 71,838 yards south of the border, and kind words from U.S. television broadcaster and CFL supporter Chris Berman.
"I never looked at the numbers the NFL guys accomplished because I thought in the CFL, we have our own league with our own records," said Calvillo. "But that was special to me.
"To see those guys say congratulations kind of changed my opinion on that. To see those guys recognize an accomplishment that was done up here was pretty special."
And how was he to celebrate the record? By joining his teammates in serving meals to homeless people at the Welcome Hall Mission, as the club does each Thanksgiving Day.
Allen built his record over a 23 year career that ended after the 2007 season. He passed Ron Lancaster's 50,535 yards to take over the CFL mark when he was with the B.C. Lions in 2000 and then passed Moon for the pro football record in 2006 with Toronto.
"The fact that Warren Moon came when I broke his record made it sweeter and I wanted to do the same for Anthony," said Allen, who is also third in all-time CFL rushing.
"He's the true essence of what a pocket passer is in our game. Even though I played a different style because I ran and passed, we were watching a true passer with his ability to throw the ball, make great decisions and give his team an opportunity to win."
Lancaster's record stood for 22 years, but Allen was not bitter that his lasted fewer than four.
"It really shows the evolution of the passing game," said Allen. "The way the quarterbacks can throw the football now is what makes football so entertaining.
"The question is, is there going to be another player who plays this long? In the next couple of years he may reach the 80,000 mark and then you wonder if it will ever be broken. No one [else] in the top 10 is playing anymore. It will need to be one of the new generation of guys and he has to play a long time. Who knows what Henry Burris or Ricky Ray can do over the next five or six years."
Calvillo decides at the end of each season whether to continue but he is expected to play at least one more if his health holds up.
The Los Angeles native wasn't thinking of playing pro football when he came out of Utah State until he was invited to the defunct Posse's camp. After one season, he spent three years in Hamilton, where he struggled on a weak team before he joined Montreal in 1998 to become understudy to Tracy Ham.
He took over as the full time starter two years later and blossomed. The pass to Richardson also put him over 4,000 yards for a 10th straight campaign, during which he has won three Grey Cups, including the last two in a row, and three outstanding player awards.
He took time off midway through the 2007 season to help his wife Alexia through a successful battle with cancer, but didn't miss a game after having his own cancerous thyroid removed during the last off-season.
"One thing I've been very blessed with is to stay pretty healthy," he said. "Coming to Montreal changed the whole outcome of my career, playing behind Tracy and learning from him.
"I knew in Montreal I didn't have to do it by myself. There was so much talent here and I benefited from that. I definitely thanked the guys after the game."
Early in the game, the Percival Molson Stadium scoreboard tracked each pass he made and how many yards remained for the record, but coach Marc Trestman acknowledged that he ordered it to be taken down until just before the record was broken. He declined to comment on why, although it was likely seen as a distraction, perhaps to himself as well as the players.
"He's as good as any of the great quarterbacks I've worked with on a day to day basis," said the fourth-year Alouettes coach, a long time NFL quarterbacks coach and offensive co-ordinator. "I'm excited for him. He's a brilliant player."
It was the third of Allen's records he broke this season. In the third week, he threw a record 395th career TD pass and three weeks later he got his record 5,159th pass completion. He remains 589 short of Allen's 9,138 pass attempts.
Calvillo's most important play came fewer than five minutes before the record, when he scrambled out of the pocket and ran 19 yards for the touchdown that put Montreal into the lead.
Backup quarterback Adrian McPherson also scored for the Alouettes (9-5). Sean Whyte added two field goals as the two-time defending Grey Cup champions clinched a playoff spot for a 16th straight year and remained tied with Winnipeg atop the East Division.
Chad Owens scored on a 58-yard punt return and Noel Prefontaine booted four field goals for the Argonauts (3-11), who were eliminated from playoff contention.
On the record play, Richardson, the CFL's top receiver with 1,452, recorded his sixth 100-yard game in the last seven games and also registered his league-leading 11th TD. Whitaker rushed 17 times for 126 yards to push his CFL lead to 1,107.
Owens had 184 receiving and kick return yards to extend his combined yards total to 2,615. He is looking to become the first player with two straight 3,000-yard seasons.