Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/2/2009 (2745 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Myself and a colleague were huddled in the passage way to one of those decrepit rooms in the bowels of what was still called Winnipeg Stadium back in 1997. It was the dawn of the Reinebold Era, and the Bombers were cleaning house.
As we were watching practice for the new regime unfold on a blustery, cold day, the quarterback -- maybe it was Kevin McDougal, maybe it was Chris Vargas (oh, the memories) -- heaved a long ball into the heavens. The football fell from the sky destined for the awaiting hands of a then little-known receiver and...
Clunk. Clang. Splat.
Milt Stegall dropped another one.
This is the exact moment I turned to that fellow scribbler and sneered, "Now THERE'S the guy they should really cut."
These are the kind of things you remember in life, the times where history proves you so utterly and profoundly wrong. And the irony, of course, is that the same person would spend the next dozen years documenting just exactly how grievous that error in judgment would ultimately become.
Hey, everybody makes mistakes. It's just that some of them, turns out, are of the Hall of Fame variety.
It wasn't just that Stegall would become a decent receiver. He would arguably become the best the Canadian Football League has ever seen. There is a constituency of CFL observers, in fact, who would crown Stegall the greatest pass catcher if only because of the parade of unknown soldiers who for the most part were at the other end of the pass.
Have we mentioned T.J. Rubley yet? Have we discussed the dark ages in Bomberville when Stegall would have been at his physical peak? All that lost potential.
Yet Stegall emerged at the other end only to find a kindred spirit in a third-string quarterback. Milt Stegall meeting Khari Jones was like peanut butter meeting strawberry jam. The apex, of course, was in 2002, the year of Stegall's career masterpiece -- 105 catches, 1,862 yards, 23 TDs.
The CFL called Stegall the Most Outstanding Player. He called himself Turtleman.
After all, Stegall was bolder and brasher by then. Thin in the waist and pretty in the face. Son Chase was going to be the first black president (It seems history can toy with the best of them, too).
And in 2007, perhaps finally Stegall was going to run into that sunset with a Grey Cup. It could have happened. After all, one thing about Stegall: Nobody catches him from behind.
Except fate, perhaps, which might explain that the only glaring omission on Stegall's gaudy resumé was the result of a muffed handoff in the East final that resulted in a quarterback's broken arm. One fumble on a simple handoff. You have to wonder, after all those yards and all those years, if Stegall might have thought himself to be cursed by the football gods.
But that couldn't be true, either. Or the Catch at Commonwealth would have been an incomplete prayer, instead of a defining, unforgettable reception that will forever be the visual exclamation point on Stegall's all-star-studded 14-year career.
Chances are, the winter sun will set on that same career today, as Stegall is widely expected to officially retire at a press conference scheduled for the club's headquarters on Maroons Road. Finally, no more 99.9 per cent. Maybe they'll even let Stegall strut straight into the Bombers Hall of Fame, as he should.
Now this is where the caveat must be addressed: Given Stegall's feints in the past, he might just drop a bombshell and proclaim a return for one more kick at the 'Cats, et al. If so, hey, I've been wrong about Stegall before.
However, if today is the day, it would feel right. You couldn't imagine that Stegall's pride would allow him a repeat of 2008, when his cranky 39-year-old knee betrayed its master too often to allow him to be, well, Milt. You see, in the end, the ultimate cornerback is Father Time. He'll catch you from behind, too.
Of course, the alternate ending for Stegall was the last sentence of a story book; to walk away a winner, to leave the game as a champion.
But as someone who once uttered that Stegall's days as a Bomber should have unceremoniously ended 12 years ago...
Who says he's not?