Stegall fans the flames

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:26 AM ET

Apparently Milt Stegall's CFL doesn't include Toronto.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers star wide receiver has caused a minor stir in advance of the East Division semi-final by dismissing the host city as a football wasteland.

"We're going to a ... I won't say Toronto's a hostile environment," Stegall told reporters in Winnipeg this week.

"All those people don't even know what the CFL is."

While there may be a grain of truth in that statement for a city that has at times been slow to embrace the Argos, Stegall could get a nasty reception Sunday.

The Argos are using Stegall's words in a promotional campaign to help get the Rogers Centre as close to full as possible for the team's lone home playoff date.

"I imagine the crowd will let Milt Stegall know where he is in a nice fashion," Argos president Keith Pelley said yesterday.

"I don't mind him saying that -- it's obviously inaccurate. I'm confident the atmosphere will be outstanding."

While the diehards will be in attendance, the game is anything but an easy sell.

The Argos drew 44,211 for the 2005 East final against the Montreal Alouettes, but the team had two weeks to sell that game. The Argos-Blue Bombers matchup was finalized early Sunday morning and even with extra staff to sell tickets, time is an opponent.

Adding to the challenge is a Raptors game at the Air Canada Centre that coincides with the Argos-Bombers 1 p.m. kickoff. Then there is the reality that the Bombers aren't nearly the draw that Montreal or Hamilton would be for an Argos playoff game.

"I don't think that is a number we can do in a week," Pelley said of matching last year's attendance for the East final. "It's just too difficult."

Still, the team was confident enough it could draw a strong crowd that it purchased rights to the game from the league.

That comes at a price of $100,000 and allows the team to keep its full share of the gate. A crowd of 25,000 should be enough to turn a profit and the Argos are hoping a strong walkup will get between 30,000 to 35,000 in the seats.

To help push tickets, the team fired out a mass e-mail to its "1st and Goal" club members last night.

"While Winnipeg receiver Milt Stegall is running his mouth, we'll be busy running the ball," the e-mail said. "Show Milt Stegall that Toronto knows the CFL."

While hardly a cause for panic, the Argos suffered a slight decline in attendance this year as the average fell below 30,000 to 29,677, a dip of about 500 fans per game.

As for Stegall's bluster, Argos players don't seem to be taking it too seriously.

"Our fans speak for themselves, there were almost 40,000 at our last game," running back John Avery said. "But it ain't my job to count them (the fans), my job is to make sure they seats get cold from people standing watching me do my job."


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