January 21, 2019

Tips from a Québécois QB who made it in the pros

How to succeed in a highly competitive environment

Gerry Dattilio, Laval-native, was called to play slotback, punt returner, defensive back, linebacker, o-line, d-line and holder throughout his career. Gerry-of-all-trades.

At the beginning of the 1977 season, him and his teammates set out to kick a field goal against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats with about three minutes left to play. The game was tied. Bad snap, the ball goes over Dattilio’s head.

“I was running around and picked up the ball,” Gerry remembers. “The word we used when there was a problem in the backfield was Bingo, Bingo, Bingo so the receivers would go out and run a pattern. I threw a pass to Dalla Riva in the end zone for a touchdown and we won the game.”

Peter Dalla Riva

As the team was getting on the plane for the trip back to Montreal, Marv Levy went up to his holder and said: “Monday, I want you to start playing quarterback.”

And boom. Gerry got his shot. He’s the last Québécois to have started at pivot for Montreal. That was in 1985. How does one break such barriers, whether it’s in pro sports or other tradition-filled industries? Well, the Grey Cup winning QB has a few words of wisdom for youth wanting to make it in a highly competitive environment.


1. Do What You Have to Do to Make the Cut
“I was released at my first try, so when I was called back, all I wanted was to make the team. We were paid $3 a day at training camp. We would get an envelope with $21 in cash in it at the end of each week.”

Then, Gerry got signed and earned the big bucks, as he put it: an impressive $14,500 per year. Even after feeling rejected, he didn’t let his ego get in the way of taking the necessary steps and playing different roles in order to achieve his goal of becoming a pro QB.

Persevere, be patient and hang in there.


2. Learn all the rules
“I made sure I learned all the ins and outs of Canadian football because that’s an advantage you have over American quarterbacks. In general, as a rookie, you have to be open to learning as much as possible. Furthermore, the guys only have two pre-season games now. A new QB will likely only get one quarter to impress. If you haven’t learned what you had to in practice, you’re in trouble.”

Listen and pride yourself in being the one who’s most eager to learn about the business. It may just be what sets you apart when it’s time to shine.


Gerry Dattilio

3. Don’t expect people to be patient with you
You may be new to the job, but people will likely want you to perform from the get go.

“Coaches are not very patient with Canadian quarterbacks, or at least not as patient as they are with Americans. All eyes are on you because you’re a rare find, but they need to be impressed fast.”

Be aware that expectations are high, then trust yourself and don’t try too hard to stir away from who you are.


4. Become a jack-of-all-trades
“I played at every position on the field and got involved wherever I could. I showcased my versatility: a jack-of-all-trades and a master at quarterback.”

Never lose sight of your goal, but understand that you may have to prove your willingness to achieve it by showing that you have more in store than just your specialty.


5. Enjoy the ride!
“Through all the ups and downs and as difficult as it was, I made sure I got the best out of it. Trials and tribulations you face on a football field or in a locker room are similar to the ones you face in life. Keeping fans happy is like keeping clients happy, for example. You’re not only going to play great games and the press or people won’t hesitate to let you know. Nowadays, the criticism takes a whole other dimension with social media, so you have to be able to focus on yourself.”

It sounds cheesy, but what doesn’t kill you really does make you tougher and, often, more valuable to a team.