No fond memories

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 10:02 AM ET

It doesn't add up.

Blue Bomber Milt Stegall is one of the best receivers in CFL history, a human vacuum cleaner with hands softer than lint, a guy who's sucked up more touchdown passes than anybody in league history.

Check out the last three Bomber playoff games, though, and you'll find the following, vacuous line: zero yards, zero touchdowns, zero catches.

What's let the air out of Stegall's balloon?

Rotten luck and the worst possible timing.

In 2003, the last time the Bombers made it this far, Stegall was forced from the West semifinal against Saskatchewan with a bad hamstring.

He didn't catch a pass, the Bombers lost and the playoff party was over.

A year earlier, it was broken ribs, a pair of them, that kept No. 85 out of a West semi win over B.C. and a West Final loss in Edmonton.

So Stegall hasn't had a full taste of playoff action since 2001, when he helped the first-place Bombers march to the Grey Cup game. Where they lost.

No wonder he wants no part of a discussion about playoff memories.

"There are no fond memories of the playoffs, unless you win it all," Stegall was saying yesterday. "So I have no fond memories. My last memories are I lost. That's all I remember, is losing. Nothing stands out. Nothing."

And don't ask him about the injuries, either. That's still a bit of a sore spot.

"I'm happy to be playing," is all he'll say. "That's all I'm worried about. I don't deal with the past. I deal with right now."

Right now, or at least Sunday in Toronto, Stegall gets his first real chance in five years to make a difference in a playoff game.

And you can only wonder what's all going through his mind.

FINAL OPPORTUNITY?

Will this be his final opportunity to win a Grey Cup?

The man, of course, doesn't want to talk about it.

But ask around, and there's an underlying realization that time is running out.

His teammates desperately wanted to get Stegall the all-time touchdown record last week in Vancouver. That didn't work out. But they've got another, even bigger carrot, now.

"It's unfortunate he didn't get the record," Tom Canada said. "But he does have another chance -- to win a championship. That's just an added motivation for this team."

It's not like everybody's talking about it. Stegall would have none of that.

But the issue hangs in the air, nonetheless, like the scent of a gourmet dinner being prepared at the far end of the house. Every so often you get a whiff, and the hunger increases.

Head coach Doug Berry wouldn't mind his players picking up on it.

"I would like to know that everybody on this team is doing everything they can," Berry said.

"The farther we go, I know the more Milt's going to enjoy this season, should it be his last one."

Stegall, the no-nonsense, all-about-team dude that he's become, scoffs at the notion that anything is about HIM.

"That shouldn't be a motivating factor," Stegall said. "They're trying to win and get some extra money. They're not concerned whether this is Milt Stegall's last year. I promise you that."

Maybe not.

But would there be anything wrong with rallying around their ring-less leader?

"We don't know whether he's coming back or not. There is some uncertainty there," quarterback Kevin Glenn began. "But I don't think that changes the mind frame of anybody."

Then, in the next breath...

"It would be nice to get him one, especially in Winnipeg," Glenn said. "He's never gotten one before, and for him to get one in Winnipeg, if he decides to retire... it would be the way to go out."

And one of the great careers would add up just right.


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