Premium pass catchers

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:27 AM ET

Milt Stegall may be the all-time touchdown king, and self-proclaimed bestlooking man in the CFL -- but who owns the fairest pair of hands the three-down game has ever seen?

Scan the field, and there's no shortage of candidates, not in a pass-happy league like this.

From Patterson to Pitts, Evanshen to Elgaard, Gabriel to Greer, pass-catching legends have graced our game for decades. Some of their names have been almost as memorable as their play. There's Mookie and Howdy Doody, Swervin' Mervyn and Gluey Huey, Downtown Eddie, The Sponge and Dirty Thirty.

From the well-traveled, like Tommy Joe Coffey, who stopped for cups in Edmonton, Hamilton and Toronto, to a one-stop guy like Stegall, who's everybody's favourite cup of tea in Winnipeg.

Stegall himself has long held the belief that Allen Pitts, the former Calgary great, is the best receiver the CFL has ever seen.

Today, Sun Media goes nine steps further, with a list that's sure to draw its share of double-teaming.

Perhaps just as notable are the names who didn't make it: Tony Gabriel, Terry Evanshen, Earl Winfield, Hughie Campbell, Dave Sapunjis, Tom Scott, Jim Young, Don Narcisse and Coffey could play for our team, any day.

But they didn't quite make our Top-10 of all time.

Did we drop the ball? We're sure you'll let us know.

10. Geroy Simon

By the time the B.C. Lions star is done, we wouldn't be surprised if he's moved up a few places on our Top-10. His last four seasons rival anything anybody has ever done: an average 98 grabs for 1,654 yards and 13 touchdowns. Yikes.

This season, Simon should crack the league's top-20 in alltime receiving yards and continue closing in on the top-10 in receptions. The guy's got it all: speed, the vertical, hands and toughness. At 31, Simon should have at least three more good seasons in him, maybe more -- after all, he learned his work habits from none other than Stegall during his first two years in the CFL.

9. Derrell Mitchell

He's done it for 10 seasons, and after it looked like he might be done, Mookie is back for an 11th, looking to add to his career total of 796 receptions and 11,648 yards, both comfortably in the top-10, all-time.

Some might argue Mitchell was the master of the 10-yard catch, but his 14.6-yard average is comparable to most of our elite pass-catchers, and his 89 career majors through the air, going into the season, ranks fourth.

His 160 catches in 1998 remains a record (by a full 34 grabs) as is the 16 catches he made in a playoff game that season. Oh, and he's one of just three players to reach 2,000 yards in a season.

8. Darren Flutie

No, Doug's brother didn't have the speed, size or sheer ability of some of the greats, but you can't ignore the numbers. Second on the all-time receptions list, with 972. Second on the all-time yardage list, going into the season, with 14,359. Tied for second with the most 1000- yard seasons, with nine. Grey Cups with B.C. and Hamilton. A three-time CFL all-star, Flutie didn't crack the end zone as often as some of his contemporaries and wasn't the league's most dangerous deep threat, but the man's hands rarely let you down, especially come playoff time. Flutie had more post-season catches, 85, than anybody ever has.

7. Ray Elgaard

With apologies to Gabriel, the prototypical big man at the receiver position has to be Elgaard, the former Saskatchewan bruiser they used to call Harley. Playing his entire, 14-year career with the Roughriders, Elgaard amassed 830 catches and rumbled for 13,198 yards, both fifth on the all-time list. His 78 touchdowns tied him for seventh spot and helped him earn four CFL all-star nominations, not to mention three Most Outstanding Canadian awards. He still holds the record for most regular-season games with a reception, at 217. We dare you to try to knock him off this list.

6. Terry Vaughn

Nobody's caught more regular season balls in CFL history than this guy, not Pitts, not Flutie, not Narcisse and certainly not Stegall. With 1,006 career receptions, 200-plus more than the highest-ranking active player, Mookie Mitchell, it could be that nobody ever will. Mr. Consistency topped 1,000 yards a record 11 straight times and ranks fourth, alltime, in yardage. It's true, there's often been someone bigger, faster and more spectacular to overshadow him, but nobody as steady for as long a period. At least, not yet.

5. Mervyn Fernandez

Now we're getting into the cream of the crop, players whose ability, and not just their career numbers, have left us gawking, time after time. Fernandez certainly did that in his all-too-brief CFL career.

You won't find Swervin' Mervyn on the all-time receptions or yardage lists, or in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, but we don't care. For pure talent, there were few, if any, better than this Lions superstar of the 1980s.

His CFL career lasted basically five seasons, but Fernandez still put up more than 6,600 yards on 399 receptions. His 260 yards against Winnipeg in 1983 is the second-highest playoff total ever amassed.

If he'd stayed in the CFL, Fernandez would have proven he belonged on our Top-10 of all time. Instead, you'll just have to take our word for it.

4. Brian Kelly

At 5-foot-9, Howdy Doody, as they called him in Edmonton, was no Mervyn Fernandez. Truth is, he was even better, a little guy who leapt and twisted like a gymnast to make catches he had no business making.

Oh, Kelly had the numbers, too, ranking eighth, all-time, in yardage. His 19.4-yard average per grab is the highest among any of the top-17 on that list, and his 97 majors ranks him third, behind

only Stegall and Pitts. You want a bigger game performer? Kelly still holds the record with five majors in a single Grey Cup game.

3. Hal Patterson

We never saw the man play, but we're going to take the word of one of the sharpest sportswriters in CFL history, Jack Matheson of the old Winnipeg Tribune.

"He was a pistol, the best of his time," Matty said of the man they called "Prince Hal."

The numbers certainly bear that out, as Patterson posted nearly 10,000 yards playing for Montreal and Hamilton from 1954-67, not exactly the era of the aerial circus.

None of our contenders can touch Patterson's 20.6-yard career average per catch or his 580 yards in Grey Cup games.

The Geroy Simon of his time, Patterson was a passcatching force in the days of the smash-mouth game, racking up more than 1,900 yards through the air in 1956, a record that stood for 27 years.

2. Allen Pitts

He didn't win any popularity awards, but the sullen, sometimes downright angry, Pitts put fear into defences every time he lined up.

The league's all-time yardage king, at least for now, with 14,891, Pitts ranks second to Stegall in all-time touchdown catches with 117 and put together the best single season, yardage-wise, of all

time when he posted 2,036 in 1994.

He' s the runaway winner in career 100-yard games, too, with 64 (Stegall is next with 50).

You don't have to be a nice guy to make this list.

1. Milt Stegall

If there was any doubt remaining about this choice, Winnipeg's No. 85 has put it to rest this season -- at the ripe old age of 37.

Actually, he began with that 100-yard touchdown on the last play of the game to beat Edmonton last year, a play that put an exclamation point on Stegall's greatness. For the better part of 13 seasons, defences have been gameplanning to stop this man. But so far nobody has found a way to do it consistently.

A big play threat whenever he's on the field, Stegall's record number of trips to the end zone say it all. For what else is a receiver's job, if not to score?

His 26.5-yard average in 1997 remains a league record, and while he ranks just seventh in career receptions, Stegall, with a good season, could catch Pitts for the alltime yardage mark.

Regardless, he's already run past them all on his way to the Hall of Fame.


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