Magnificent Milt

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 9:30 AM ET

It was a matchup of worst versus first in the CFL West, an 11-2 visiting team that has nothing to play for until the playoffs, against a 4-10 home team with nothing to play for until next year.

Not surprisingly, on a day when Winnipeggers were supposed to be giving thanks, many of them said, "No thanks," instead -- just 22,630 showed up to watch the Blue Bombers challenge the B.C. Lions.

See what happens when losing becomes habitual?

You get an absolutely gorgeous autumn afternoon, the annual hall-of-fame game, with all kinds of heroes from the past in attendance, and the second-smallest crowd of the year shows up.

With two more home dates to go, games that'll be tougher to sell than parkas in Arizona, Bomber CEO Lyle Bauer must be looking forward to his year-end meeting with the accountant like it's an appointment for a root canal.

No, the numbers won't be pretty.

Yesterday, though, one was: No. 85.

On a day when the greatest Bombers of all time were honoured, receiver Milt Stegall turned in one of the greatest performances in franchise history.

Four catches, 234 yards, four touchdowns. A receiver's version of the perfect game.

"I don't think that's ever happened -- that's amazing," Stegall said, perhaps even impressing himself for the first time.

Say what you want about the Bombers of '05 -- their defence has been putrid, their offence sporadic, their special teams a roller-coaster, their coaching easy to second-guess. Through it all, one constant has remained.

Actually, to call Stegall a constant is unfair. The hum of a hydro line is constant. Stegall is raw electricity.

"Unbelievable, man," fellow receiver Chris Brazzell said. "I've never seen anything like it."

The guy defies logic, too.

At 35, he can't be getting better, but he is.

After a so-so 2004, the 11-year vet has bounced back like Gumby, only with way more speed and much better hands.

Last year everybody said he'd lost a step. Yesterday, it looked like he'd gained three. Particularly on Lions defensive back Tony Tiller.

"I gave him a couple of dead legs, my patented dead legs, and he fell for it," Stegall said, describing his favourite move, we presume. "I said to him after the game to keep his head up."

Keep his head up? The guy will probably wind up playing Arena Football 2, if he's lucky.

It's not the first career Stegall has derailed. Apparently, it won't be the last, either.

Said to be washed up a year ago, the 11-year vet is cleaning up in '05, leading the CFL with 16 touchdowns and leading all receivers with a gaudy average of more than 20 yards per catch.

'Blessed'

"You think that was it, that's all he has, and then he comes back with something like this," quarterback Kevin Glenn said.

Slow, old guys don't do that.

So how does he?

"He's a Christian guy," Brazzell surmised, as good a theory as any, we suppose. "I'm sure he's getting blessed."

Brazzell had a front row seat for blessing, too, having suffered a suspected leg fracture early in the game and returning to watch the Stegall Show from the sidelines.

That makes the latest edition of Milt's Magic even more noteworthy, considering Brazzell is supposed to take some of the heat off No. 85. Without him, teams can double-team Stegall.

Lions coach Wally Buono sounded like somebody who could use double-teaming himself: on the psychiatrist's couch.

"He beat us in man, he beat us in zone, he beat us when we doubled him," Buono said.

That doesn't leave much.

Except this: will the greatest receiver in franchise history wind up his career without a single Grey Cup title?

You can't say Stegall hasn't done his part.

The Bombers, though -- yesterday's 44-23 win notwithstanding -- aren't even coming close.


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