Kinder, gentler Milt

PAUL FRIESEN

, Last Updated: 8:12 AM ET

Stegall wants to leave lasting impression in final season

It was during a conversation with Milt Stegall a few weeks back that I first noticed it.

Upon wrapping up an interview, Stegall actually complimented a member of the media.

Not the backhanded, tongue-in-cheek type of thing Stegall likes to pull, like telling a reporter he's dressing better than he used to. This was an honest-to-goodness compliment about the man's work.

An eyebrow raiser, to be sure.

Because underneath all those great quotes and TV smiles, the Blue Bomber receiver has had his share of run-ins with those of us who write about his every move.

Normally, we don't report them because we don't think the public gives a rat's behind. It's our cross to bear. Goes with the territory.

But in order to understand where the man's head is at today, it's necessary to take a brief look back.

Remember Stegall's contract dispute with the Bombers back in 2001? He took some heat in this space for demanding more money barely a year after signing a new contract.

There was the time he refused to talk with Sun Media reporters after one picked the Bombers to lose a game by 50 points.

When he's been hurt, particularly at playoff time, asking him about the injury risked an all-out confrontation.

As late as last season, Stegall accused this reporter of disrespecting him at one point, all over a question about whether or not he felt rusty after missing a few games.

That's why I had to do a double-take when I heard the man toss out a compliment for a second time.

So, risking having the whole thing thrown back in my face, I approached No. 85 the other day and asked him about what appears to be a kinder, gentler Milt.

"I'm never kinder, gentler," Stegall began. "I'm always intense. I guess I'm a little different, just dealing with folks this year, realizing this is the final year. I don't want to leave anybody with a bad taste in their mouth about Milt Stegall.

"The legacy I want to leave has nothing to do with football. People are going to forget things I've done on the football field. I want to be remembered as a person who was just a good person, overall."

So there you have it.

Playing what's almost certain to be the last season of a remarkable, 13-year CFL career, Stegall is feeling just a tad sentimental about it all.

There's the daily journal he's keeping, where at the end of the day he writes down some of the little things he'd like to remember about practice, or games or just hanging out with teammates.

There's a new appreciation for every drop of sweat he feels falling from his face in the dog days of July, every wisecrack in the locker room, every cheer from the crowd. Who knows, he might even stop to savour the bitter north wind of Winnipeg in early November.

And now this: warm exchanges with a sports writer.

"Man, that's hard to believe," Stegall agreed. "I've been on you for what, how many years now? I don't want you to talk about me in a bad way once I leave. Everybody has been good to me. Even you guys, for the most part. I just want to enjoy this year. I don't want to have any bad feelings, bad memories, about this year. Because more than likely this is it, so I want to make it as good as possible."

Stegall has been better than anybody thought possible since arriving in 1995.

If he catches a touchdown pass against the Eskimos tonight, he'll become the CFL's all-time home run king, and no doubt several hundred more words will be written about one of the most impressive players, and impressive feats, in league history.

But it's those few words from Stegall that make it pretty clear: this is not just another season.

So here's to you, Milt.

And if you must know the truth, you're sounding better than you used to.


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