It was Dec. 17, 1993. As Anthony Calvillo sat in front of his dressing hook in the Sam Boyd Stadium locker room and removed his football gear, he thought that probably would be the final time.
By then he had overcome a modest upbringing, which wasn’t easy. In the part of Los Angeles where he’s from, gunshots are more apt to ring out than happy voices of kids at play.
He had used sports as insulation from the gang warfare that put his older brother David in The Joint for eight years. He went to junior college, improved his grades, started out on the fifth string at Utah State, made it to the first.
He had passed for 386 yards and three touchdowns and was named Most Valuable Player of the Aggies’ 42-33 victory over Ball State, their first bowl appearance since 1961.
"It wasn’t until the second half of our last regular-season game that we thought we even had a chance," Calvillo said before Wednesday’s MAACO Bowl Las Vegas luncheon at the Las Vegas Convention Center, where he, Steven Jackson, John Robinson and bowl game founding father Rossi Ralenkotter were introduced as inaugural members of the Las Vegas Bowl Hall of Fame.
"Nevada had just lost, so if we win that game against New Mexico State, we’re in."
Puts it in perspective, doesn’t it?
UNR was in only its second season of Division I football in 1993, while New Mexico State was in what seemed like its 101st, all of them lousy.
But though only 15,508 were on hand for Las Vegas Bowl II, it was a big deal for Utah State to win that game. To Calvillo, it seemed the ideal way to move on to something else, to see if this college education stuff everybody talks about was worth the effort.
"I know the NFL wasn’t looking at me, that this was going to be the end, and I was fine with that," he said.
And then a cool wind blew in from the North in June. Figuratively, anyway.
The Canadian Football League was expanding to Las Vegas in 1994 because, after all, our weather is pretty much the same as Saskatoon’s. Somebody with the Las Vegas Posse had seen that game against Ball State on ESPN, and so the kid from Utah State with a bandito’s mustache and quick trigger was invited to training camp.
Along with 12 other banditos with triggers of varying quickness.
"I had never heard of the CFL," Calvillo said.
He hadn’t heard of most of those quarterbacks, either.
He was familiar with Jason Verduzco of Illinois and Len Williams of Northwestern and Darian Hagan of Colorado.
When he saw he could compete with two Big Ten quarterbacks and another who had led Colorado to a share of the 1990 national championship, Calvillo began to think he could play in this CFL, whatever it was, with its boundless field and its three downs and its two Roughriders, one spelled with a space, one not.
"I thought to myself, how am I gonna compete with these guys?" said Calvillo, who became the Posse starter before the franchise folded after one year. "After that first day or two, I saw what they were doing and I saw what I could do. I think that was the last time I doubted myself."
He was saying this in a hospitality room at the convention center no more than five football fields — about four Canadian — from the back parking lot of the Riviera, where the Posse had planted grass, Chia-pet style, on asphalt and called it a practice field.
Calvillo flashed a grin as wide as the Canadian prairie. "That’s a story I tell a lot of people," he said.
Now most people up there tell stories about Calvillo as if he were Anne Murray.
On Thanksgiving weekend, the 39-year-old star of the Montreal Alouettes threw a 50-yard touchdown pass on the final play of the third quarter against the rival Toronto Argonauts to become professional football’s all-time passing leader. He will begin next season, his 19th, with 73,412 passing yards. Brett Favre is the NFL leader with 71,838.
If one linked Anthony Calvillo’s completed passes from end to end, they would stretch for 41.7 miles, the distance from here to Primm, with nearly enough left over for a side trip to Goodsprings.
I don’t know how long that is in kilometers, but I bet Anne Murray would be impressed.
Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.