Milt catching up

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:25 AM ET

Milt Stegall can fill a reporter's notebook better than almost anyone in the Canadian Football League.

On nearly any topic, he can deliver some gems.

Example 1: "I like looking at my beautiful self in the mirror. I guess you could consider that a hobby."

Example 2: "All football players are egomaniacs."

Example 106: "If you wear that (Eskimo golf) shirt again," he said to Edmonton broadcaster Bryan Hall a few weeks ago, "I am going to tear it off and take a look at your six-pack."

But the ageless wonder with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers is also better than almost anyone in CFL history at embarrassing defensive backs - and is now just six majors shy of setting the league's all-time regular-season record for most touchdowns.

REED, PRINGLE TOPS ... FOR NOW

Legends George Reed and Mike Pringle currently hold the prestigious mark with 137 TDs, but that could easily be wiped from the record book before Labour Day, especially if Stegall embarrasses the Eskimos for a second time in three weeks when they meet tomorrow at Commonwealth Stadium.

Just 18 short days ago, the 36-year-old receiver scorched Edmonton halfback Keyuo Craver for 153 yards and two TDs.

"We need to be a lot more aggressive and get in his face," said Craver.

But that game plan has been tried seemingly countless times by other defenders in the last 12 years and hasn't worked at all.

"He has a few tricks up his sleeve every time he goes out," said Edmonton slotback Jason Tucker.

"He'll give you a little dead leg look or he might fake a hamstring - and then he's gone by you. He's a Hall of Famer and you love to see him play."

Everyone but defensive backs - that is.

Since arriving in Winnipeg in 1995, he has set 11 Bomber receiving records.

"I have been blessed not to have any major injuries (in my career) and I've put in a lot of hard work to be prepared as possible," said Stegall, who once again leads the CFL in receiving through five weeks.

Within that answer lies the reasons for why he has been so good for so long.

A workout freak, the Ohio native is in remarkable condition, likely in better shape than many receivers 10 years younger.

"His (workout) routine reminds me of what people used to say about Jerry Rice as far as putting yourself to the limit," said his former quarterback Khari Jones yesterday.

At Canad Inns Stadium every day at 7 a.m. - two hours before meetings start - Stegall jumps rope and works his upper body before busting his behind through every single offensive drill and play during afternoon practice. And when he's not putting his body to the test, he's putting his mind through a workout.

"He thinks the game more like a quarterback," continued Jones. "And it's one thing to be able to study film, but it's another to be able to react to what you see on the run and he was better than anyone (when I was playing)."

So many of his 62 touchdowns he scored with Jones during five seasons around the turn of the decade came on freelance plays where he read the defence and simply adapted his route.

COULD BE STEGALL'S LAST GAME

And while the Bombers hope he'll keep running pass patterns for a few more years, there is a distinct possibility that tomorrow could be the last time Stegall visits Commonwealth Stadium. He pondered retirement last fall and is now promising he'll make a decision on his football future before the Bombers finish the regular season.

"Without me, they can loosen up some money (for free agent signings)," he said.

And while he ponders that decision through the summer, he knows he would trade every record he has for the one thing that is missing in his career: a Grey Cup ring.

"Of course," he said. "No questions asked."

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THE ULTIMATE RECEIVER

Milt Stegall

Age: 36 Born: Cincinnati, Ohio CFL career: 12 years in Winnipeg

Notable: He has already set four CFL records and 11 Bomber marks, but is just six majors shy of setting the league's all-time regular-season touchdown record.

Fitness Sergeant: During the off-season, Stegall runs a conditioning camp for nearly a dozen CFLers - including Joe Montford - in Atlanta.

Three times a week, Stegall puts players through an intense 90-minute workout that can include running hills, steps, 100-yard sprints, one-on-one drills, resistant rope drills, etc.

Little known fact: If Stegall hadn't badly strained a hamstring in training camp with the Green Bay Packers in 1995, he probably wouldn't have come north to Winnipeg. "There's a real good chance I would have (stayed in the NFL)," he said. "They were telling me I had an opportunity to be a third, fourth or fifth receiver in Green Bay." From 1992-94, he played for the Cincinnati Bengals.


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