'Bomber for life'

TED WYMAN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 11:30 AM ET

On the verge of walking away from a game he loves and a team he has been a part of throughout his CFL career, Milt Stegall began to have a change of heart while looking at his fingers.

They were empty, completely devoid of the one thing he wants most but has never earned -- a Grey Cup ring.

In that moment of clarity back in the fall, Stegall knew he would return to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers for at least one more shot at CFL glory, even if it meant sacrificing precious time with his wife and young son.

"If they were paying me a dollar, I'd say OK," Stegall said after signing a one-year (plus an option) contract extension with the Bombers. "As long as I'm gonna win, I'm happy. In the CFL, nobody is making enough money to retire. The only thing you are going to remember are those Grey Cup rings.

"I haven't been fortunate enough to get one yet, and I'm definitely planning on getting one this year."

Stegall, the Bombers' all-time leader in receptions (678), receiving yards (12,333) and receiving touchdowns (126), was heading into his option year before signing the extension. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

CONSIDERED RETIREMENT

He seriously considered retirement after last season when the Bombers were an abysmal 5-13 and when he began to have reservations about being away from his wife Darlene and son Chase (who live in Atlanta) for so many months of the year.

"It had nothing to do with football, but it's the fact that my family is in Atlanta, and that is 20 million times more important than football," said Stegall, 36.

"If it was up to me, I would play forever."

TRYING TO RELOAD

Stegall's signing is a relief to the Winnipeg organization, which is trying to reload quickly for a run at the Grey Cup, a game it will host this year.

"I was concerned," Bombers general manager Brendan Taman said when asked if he took Stegall's retirement talk seriously. "The last thing I needed in addition to everything else that was going on was to have to replace him."

Stegall established the record for career touchdown receptions last year and will now set his sights on the all-time touchdown mark of 137, held by running backs George Reed and Mike Pringle.

While he is only eight back, he insists the record chase doesn't motivate him.

"I try to leave that in the back of my head, but it's difficult because guys like you (media) keep bringing it up," said Stegall, who caught 52 passes for 1,184 yards and 17 touchdowns last year.

"Of course I would like to break the record, don't get me wrong. But if I don't score a touchdown and we win every game, I'm happier than if I broke the record in the first game and we don't win a game at all."

When Stegall does eventually retire, it looks like it will be as a Blue Bomber.

"It's a good feeling to be recognized as a Bomber for life," he said. "Hopefully they don't trade me. They were talking about trading me to Saskatchewan, the armpit of the world, last year."

After last season, the Bombers fired coach Jim Daley and replaced him with former Montreal Alouettes assistant Doug Berry. They also signed an old buddy of Stegall's, receiver/kick returner Albert Johnson III, to a contract.

"Any company, if your stock is down, you've got to make some changes within the organization," Stegall said. "They started with the coaching staff, and I think it's an upgrade. They are going to make some player changes too."

While there are no promises for the future, there's no absolute guarantee this will be Stegall's final season, either.

"I'm not looking at this year as a farewell tour. I don't want anybody sending me off or doing anything special for me."


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