At home in the 'Peg

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:34 AM ET

He's been faking CFL defenders out of their cleats for 12 years, so what would it take to dupe a bunch of dopey reporters?

"Milt Stegall has played his last game," is how No. 85 with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers began his address to the media yesterday. "Milt Stegall is retiring."

Not sure how many people bought it. A couple of Bombers office staffers, for sure. Perhaps Global TV's Joe Pascucci, but only for a moment.

"You've all just been Charles Robertsed," Stegall quickly added. "I'm definitely coming back to play one more year."

With that, one of the best receivers in CFL history ended the latest instalment of Got Milt? the off-season game show that's been running in this town the last few years.

The big winners, as always, are the fans who pay good money to watch the Stegall show. Bombers management, which pays Stegall even better money to put it on, is smiling, too, not to mention head coach Doug Berry, who gets one of his best players, and leaders, back in the locker-room.

The big losers have to be Darlene and Chase Stegall, who'll see a little less of dad than they'd like for one more football season.

This wasn't the plan, you know.

The Stegalls were planning to end this annual northern migration once they began a family.

Two years later, something keeps bringing their man back.

"He's realized over the years how difficult that would be, to leave Winnipeg," Darlene was saying. "This is his love. This is where his heart is. He hasn't ever looked to get traded or anything. Winnipeg really is his second home. We live in Atlanta, but he spends just as much time here."

Which, of course, is the problem.

But so far there's always been enough of a carrot to keep her soon-to-be 37-year-old husband from calling it a career.

An ever-increasing salary that's pushing $200,000 certainly doesn't hurt.

Stegall, though, is a man who's taken good care of every single penny he's earned, including a couple years cashing NFL paycheques.

When he does retire, his investments and business interests will leave him free of becoming a working stiff.

No, you get the impression lacing up the cleats and playing catch for a living is not just a job for No. 85, but still a ton of fun.

Particularly when you're on a team that's in the thick of things.

After a five-year decline, the Bombers, it seems, are on the upswing.

Stegall's decision to play again is as good a stamp of approval for Berry's program as any.

Not long ago, Darlene asked her husband the fundamental reason he wanted to play next season.

"He sees great possibilities," she said. "And that means potentially winning a Grey Cup."

And make no mistake: this was Stegall's decision, unlike what the Turtle Man tries to tell us all the time.

"He's managed to make enough people believe that it's really my decision," Darlene said. "That's easier, right? Anybody with a wife knows that.

"Ultimately, what I want is for him to be happy. For him to leave on his own accord and the way he wants to leave. I don't want to be on the rocking chair and him going, 'You know, I should have stayed that one more year in 2007.'"

THE YEAR

Finishing a season as a champion is the one thing Stegall hasn't accomplished as a football player -- not in high school, not in college, not with Cincinnati in the NFL and not here.

Stegall brought each of those old jerseys with him yesterday, just like he brought that endless hope that, just maybe, next year will be the year.

"If I knew this team wasn't in a good position to win the Grey Cup, I'd be wasting my time," he said.

So is this it? The farewell tour of '07?

"More than likely," Stegall said.

And that comment didn't seem like a fake.


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