Revisiting 'The Catch'

PAUL FRIESEN, HOME TURF

, Last Updated: 11:44 AM ET

It was shown on television screens across North America when it happened, and it'll be replayed 50 years from now as one of the great plays in CFL history.

Unless he does it again, say in the Grey Cup game, it will likely be the play that sticks with Milt Stegall forever.

The man himself says it's the one he'll never forget.

So today, with the Edmonton Eskimos in town and Stegall trying one more time to vault past George Reed and Mike Pringle into top spot on the all-time touchdown list, Home Turf takes a look back at the most spectacular touchdown in No. 85's illustrious career: The Miracle at Commonwealth.

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We've all seen successful Hail Mary passes and last-second goals to win hockey games, but really, 100 yards on the last play of the game?

That's what the Bombers were staring at in Edmonton last July 20, trailing 22-18 and scrimmaging on their own 10-yard line with time for one play.

But to fully appreciate what happened that day, you need to take a ride on the emotional roller-coaster that head coach Doug Berry had already been on simply getting to that point.

Berry compared the final minute of that game to being stabbed repeatedly, not that he has much experience with that.

Anyway, the first-year Bomber boss thought he had the game won when, leading 18-14, his offence made the critical first down needed to run out the clock. Or so he thought, until he saw Kevin Glenn lose control of the ball.

"You see the quarterback sneak, you see the quarterback going forward... we got it! The game's over!" Berry recalled. "We fumble! Oh my goodness! We're giving them a chance! OK, we've still got the lead. We're up by four. Just hold them to a field goal. They score with, like, 15 seconds left. Oh my goodness! Second dagger in the heart. They're ahead! This is a game we should have won!"

The Eskimos scored a two-point conversion to take a four-point lead. But, like any good coach, Berry regrouped and looked at the possibilities, slim though they were.

"OK, they've gotta kick off to us. We're gonna get a kickoff return. We can do it. I've seen it happen." he recalled thinking. "I watch that ball being kicked and there's a flag on the field. And I'm going, 'Oh my god!' Third dagger. They stabbed me again. Holding, on us! On the return! We're back at the 10-yard line! With 10 seconds left!"

Once again, the eternal optimist that resides inside most every athlete or coach surfaced, and Berry put his thinking cap on again.

"Ok, this is the play. We've got one play. They should be back 25 yards, waiting for you to catch, and collapse (on the receiver)."

That's when Berry glanced at the Eskimos defence and couldn't believe what he saw.

"I remember, clear as day, talking on the phones to the offence, going, 'Oh my god -- they're in cover-zero.' "

Cover-zero is a high-risk defence that sees a blitz on the quarterback, leaving most receivers in one-on-one coverage. Actually, there's some debate about whether or not the Esks were in cover-zero. Suffice to say they weren't playing the prevent defence teams would play 99% of the time in similar situations.

In Edmonton they called it a safety blitz, with the defensive backs playing a four-deep zone.

"It wasn't a cover-zero," Stegall said. "It's not like they were blitzing their linebackers. They dropped them back to, like, 15 or 20 yards. It seemed like a cover-4 -- they had four dbs deep. They left some holes open."

But Stegall and Glenn weren't on the same page, at least not on that first play, and Glenn's pass fell incomplete.

"You notice on the first play I took the middle and Kevin threw it outside," Stegall said. "On the second play I told him I was going to take the outside, and he said he was going to throw it to me or Brazzell. We didn't have anything to lose."

The clock down to four seconds, the Bombers broke their huddle one last time, and Berry, Glenn and Stegall thought they were looking at an instant replay.

"This is just incredible -- they're in it again!" Berry said of the Edmonton alignment.

"I can't believe they're doing it," Stegall said. "You've got 100 yards to go, I'm going to send two guys, maybe (after the quarterback), and drop everybody back, drop 'em deep, make him throw it underneath. You can come up and make the tackle. The chances of somebody being able to kick it in (the end zone) and go down and recover are very slim. But that was the coverage they wanted to play."

This time, Glenn read Stegall's route perfectly, and fired a pass down the seam to his left, not far from the Winnipeg sideline, where Berry and the rest of his team watched the impossible happen. The kind of play you dream about, you act out in the park as a kid, but one that never actually happens in a professional football game.

Almost as memorable as the play itself is the image of Berry running and waving his arms along the Bomber bench, no doubt ruining a headphone cord along the way.

"I see Milt make that catch, and I'm trying to keep up with him," the coach said. "I couldn't believe it. It's just the epitome of disaster to exuberance. I've been in some games that went right to the end... but never a 100-yard play."

As two defenders collided, Stegall ran untouched to the end zone, where teammate Chris Brazzell finally did what the Eskimos couldn't -- bring him down.

A stunned crowd of some 37,000 went dead-quiet. Edmonton head coach Danny Maciocia looked like he'd just been told he'd eaten a cat. Winnipeg 25, Edmonton 22.

That night, the image of Stegall's 100-yard dash haunted Keyuo Craver, a 24-year-old from Dallas in his second CFL season, and one of the Eskimos beaten on the play.

Up at 3 a.m., trying to put some food in his belly at a 24-hour diner, Craver was having a hard time digesting what had happened.

"It was a rough night," he said days later. "A play like that has never happened to me. Of course, the highlights were on every channel, and everybody and their momma reminded you of it."

Defending Grey Cup champions, the Eskimos finished 7-11 and missed the playoffs for the first time in 34 years.

"That was their Achilles heel for the whole year," Berry said. "They never recovered."

You could argue they're still feeling the effects, breaking in virtually an entire new secondary almost 12 months later.

"Well, those defensive backs, of all that were involved, the only one left is Shannon Garrett, and he was on the other side," Stegall said. "The other guys who were actually on the field at the time, they're not playing anymore. I don't know if that actual play cost them their jobs, but ... it didn't help."

It certainly helped Stegall's notoriety.

During the off-season in Atlanta, people didn't usually talk about his exploits up in Canada, but they certainly were last winter.

"It was on ESPN, it was on local TV -- I hear about it all the time," he said.

And probably will for a long time to come.


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