Enjoy the chase, Milt

When the Bombers were unbeaten, Milt Stegall seemed to be kinder and gentler than usual. Now that...

When the Bombers were unbeaten, Milt Stegall seemed to be kinder and gentler than usual. Now that the team has suffered a loss, his old intensity has returned. (Sun Media/Jesse Johnston)

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:02 AM ET

We should have seen it coming.

This whole notion of Milt Stegall savouring every moment in this, most likely his last, CFL season, keeping a daily journal and trying to be friendly with everybody so as to leave a good, final impression -- it sounded nice, but it was too much to expect.

Unless, that is, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers went through the season undefeated, and that wasn't going to happen, was it?

No, we should have known Stegall's kinder, gentler persona was going to last as long as his team's undefeated string. For the man is nothing if he isn't a competitor. Been that way since he was a kid.

We know this because we spoke with the one man who's known Stegall almost as long as his father and two older brothers.

The guy's name is Jerry Wilkerson, and he's been buddies with No. 85 since they were six-year-olds growing up in Cincinnati.

"He doesn't like losing at anything," Wilkerson told me in a recent interview. "No matter what we play, it's a real passion. He always wants to be the best. He's not going to let somebody win, whether it's a little kid... if they're going to beat him, they're going to have to earn it.

"Sometimes with that competitiveness, he'll really get vocal if it's time to get vocal."

We found that out last Friday night.

After a 19-15 loss to Edmonton -- the second straight game in which Stegall fell short of breaking the CFL career touchdown record before a sellout home crowd -- Stegall was so worked up at all the questions surrounding his chase of the record he blew up at a group of reporters interviewing quarterback Kevin Glenn nearby.

"It was not a distraction! Stop asking those dumb questions!" Stegall shouted.

One loss, and happy-go-lucky No. 85 becomes the grumpy old man.

Actually, the best word to describe Stegall isn't grumpy or happy-go-lucky. It's intense.

And in the heat of the moment that follows a football game, it doesn't take much to set him off.

That focus and intensity is probably part of the reason he's in a position to make CFL history.

TAKING ADVICE?

But is he taking Mike Pringle's advice, and enjoying the chase?

It was Pringle, the retired running back who shares the touchdown record with Stegall and George Reed, who told me last week that Stegall should savour the journey. Because the destination is a bit of a letdown.

Apparently, that's the way it was for Pringle when he supplanted Reed as the league's all-time leading rusher. There's all this buildup, all these questions from media, family and friends and then, poof--it's over.

Listening to Stegall sometimes you get the impression this whole thing has become a burden.

Perhaps that's understandable, given that so far in his career he's missed out on what he really wants: a Grey Cup.

If Stegall had a ring or two to show off, then maybe this record chase would be gravy, and he'd be savouring every bit of it.

But this year isn't about records or history. It's about ending his career the storybook way: on top. So anything that detracts from that singular focus is going to annoy him. Check that. It's going to really peeve him off.

Stegall's mini-rant in the locker-room suggests his pursuit of the record is becoming a distraction. It's the old "Thou doth protest too much" theory.

But life's a journey, not a destination. And this journey may not be over for a while.

You see, the Bombers are headed for Montreal, where they'll play the Alouettes tomorrow. Stegall hasn't scored a touchdown against the Als the last five times he's played them, and based on the game two weeks ago, they'll do whatever it takes to keep that streak intact.

Remember, enjoy the chase, Milt. Enjoy the chase.


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