The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION
Blue Bombers slotback Stegall retires following 14-year CFL career
WINNIPEG - Right to the end, it was vintage Milt Stegall.
"Guess I'll just get it out of the way: Milt Stegall has never done any banned substances, no steroids, nothing," the colourful Stegall quipped Wednesday as he officially retired to cap an illustrious 14-year CFL career, his wife and two sons seated beside him.
The 39-year-old slotback spent his entire career with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and leaves a legacy includes being the CFL's all-time leader in touchdowns (147), touchdown catches (144) and career receiving yards (15,153).
Arguably the league's greatest receiver, he also holds CFL records for most TDs in a season (23 in 2002), average yards per catch in a season (26.5 in 1997) and most games with a receiving TD (105).
"I have enough stored up right now where I can really ride into the sunset and really enjoy and not be sad that it's over, but be happy that I got a chance to go through it," Stegall said. "It was a great experience and I'll miss it, but I'm not sad it's over.
"I'm happy that I actually got a chance to experience all these things."
The only achievement missing from the Cincinnati native's stellar football resume was a Grey Cup championship. He appeared in the CFL title game in 2001 and '07 when the Bombers lost to Calgary and Saskatchewan, respectively.
However, Stegall said that's not a regret he'll carry.
"My legacy has nothing to do with what I did on the football field, it was just a plateau that I used to go on and do bigger and better things," Stegall said of his involvement with people in the community. "Football didn't make me who I am.
"It was something that I did and now I move on."
Stegall, the CFL's outstanding player in 2002, said he realized the 2008 season would be his last when he struggle to regain his form following knee surgery in May.
Stegall missed training camp and six of the first seven regular-season games, finishing with 30 catches for 470 yards and three touchdowns.
A highlight, though, was breaking Allen Pitts' all-time receiving yards record of 14,891 on Sept. 12 in Toronto.
Of course, Stegall did it in style.
He tied the record with a 16-yard TD catch - his first of the season - then smashed the mark with a brilliant 92-yard touchdown grab.
Stegall broke the CFL all-time TD record of 137 shared by Mike Pringle and George Reed in 2007 after surpassing Pitts's all-time TD reception record of 117 in 2005.
The last touchdown of Stegall's stellar career will go into the books as a 31-yard pass from Kevin Glenn in a 30-23 win in Edmonton on Sept. 26, 2008.
Team president and CEO Lyle Bauer also announced Stegall will go immediately into the Bombers' Hall of Fame this summer as its lone inductee.
The six-time CFL all-star retires as the club's third-leading scorer behind kickers Troy Westwood and Trevor Kennerd after playing 199 regular-season games and 10 playoff matches. Ten times he surpassed 1,000 yards receiving in a season, including nine straight.
Stegall, his wife Darlene and sons Chase, 4, and Collin, who turns one in July, make their home in Atlanta, where Stegall has a number of business interests. However, he'd like to stay involved with the team, the Winnipeg community and CFL and will serve as a guest analyst with TSN on its CFL broadcasts throughout the season.
"Every time I see somebody with an (No.) 85 jersey on, it's still hard to believe I'm the reason they have that jersey on," Stegall said. "It's overwhelming.
"I don't do any drugs, I don't drink, but the greatest high I have is when I run on that field and hear fans screaming my name and I look up and see people with my jersey on. That'll be one of the things I'll miss the most because there's no occupation that could pay me enough that could describe that feeling, that high I get right there every single time."
Coaching isn't in Stegall's immediate plans because he wants to focus on his family. But he joked he'd already passed up an opportunity.
"Mike (new Bombers head coach Mike Kelly) thanked me because they offered me the head coaching job and I said, 'No, I'll let him have it,' " Stegall said.
Kelly was the club's offensive co-ordinator when Stegall signed with the Bombers as a free agent in September 1995.
Although Stegall came to Canada following three seasons with the NFL's Cincinnati Bengals, Kelly said he didn't bring an attitude with him.
"Milt's a very intelligent man and that's what separated him from some other guys," Kelly said. "He wasn't any more physically gifted than players that we brought in here, but he had a great desire to excel and he embraced the Canadian game early and wanted to learn how it was played."
Stegall's fondest memory is the 100-yard TD pass he caught from Glenn against Edmonton on July 20, 2006 on the game's final play that earned the Bombers a victory.
"You ask me, that's the greatest CFL play ever," Stegall boasted to more laughs.
Glenn said when he was traded to Winnipeg he was excited to get to throw the ball to Stegall and watch him do his "amazing stuff."
"I'm very happy to be part of his career because as long they show highlights of Milt, they've got to show the person throwing him the ball," Glenn said with a laugh from his Detroit home.
Defensive back Kelly Malveaux, a nine-year CFL veteran, said he didn't appreciate Stegall's talent and work ethic until he joined Winnipeg in 2006. He said young defensive backs often under-estimated Stegall's speed because of his age.
"I think if he still wanted to play he could play because he has a knack for the game, he knows how to get open," Malveaux said from Nevada.
But what the Bombers will miss most is Stegall's locker-room presence.
"Milt is irreplaceable," Malveaux said. "He's one of those guys who's a phenomenal locker-room guy.
"He talked to everyone. Whether you were white, black, Hispanic, it didn't matter. He could find some kind of joke, light-hearted moment for anybody in the locker room.
"I think those kind of intangibles, those characteristic sort of things, make a person the kind of top-notch person they are. He's going to be truly missed."
A quick look at Milt Stegall
WINNIPEG - A quick look at Winnipeg Blue Bombers slotback Milt Stegall, who announced his retirement Wednesday:
Age: 39, born Jan. 25, 1970 in Cincinnati.
Personal: Six feet, 189 pounds.
College: Miami University of Ohio
NFL career: 1992-94 with Cincinnati Bengals. Played 21 games, mostly on kickoff returns, and scored one TD. Tried out for New Orleans in 98, but tore his MCL on the first day of training camp.
CFL seasons: 14 (Signed by Winnipeg as a free agent in September 1995).
First CFL TD: In his first CFL game on Sept. 19, 1995, he caught a 14-yard pass from Kevin McDougal in a loss to Calgary.
Last CFL TD: A 31-yard pass from Kevin Glenn in a 30-23 win in Edmonton on Sept. 26, 2008.
CFL records: Total touchdowns (147), total TD receptions (144), most TDs in a season (23); total receiving yards (15,153); average yards per catch in a season (26.5); most games with a receiving TD (105).
Awards: Named CFL outstanding player in 2002; six-time CFL all-star; eight-time division all-star.
Quote: Stegall says there are only six things in life that are guaranteed. Those are: "Death, taxes and trouble, Milt Stegall is always going to look good, Milt Stegall is always going to be on time and Milt Stegall is always in tip-top shape."
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