It's only football

KIRK PENTON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:37 AM ET

Turtle Man never lets anyone inside his shell.

No one except Milt Stegall and his wife know if this could really be the end of one of the most remarkable careers in CFL history.

If it is time to roll the credits, 13 years of circus catches, jaw-dropping touchdowns and creative end zone dances could come to an unceremonious end tomorrow afternoon at Canad Inns Stadium.

Perhaps that's why the Winnipeg Blue Bombers slotback closed up his shell this week and didn't let anyone peek inside, let alone get in it.

"There's a good chance this could be my last year, my last home game," he said, "but there's also a slight chance that it couldn't be."

He claims tomorrow's game is just like the other 195 regular-season and playoff contests he's played since 1995.

"This is football. It's not life or death," the 37-year-old said. "Life's going to go on -- win, lose or draw -- no matter what. This is football, that's all it is.

"Early on in my career I put a lot into football, but I learned as time's gone on ... I understand this is football. Football doesn't love me, and I don't love it. Whatever happens, happens.

"... Every time I step on the field it's special, and I say that because I get an opportunity to play football. There are millions of people who would love to be doing what I'm doing."

Perhaps Stegall is telling the truth, or maybe he's just trying to ease the tension by not talking about it.

From an outsider's perspective, the pressure appears immense. Stegall did, after all, return for a 13th season to win his first Grey Cup and win his first Grey Cup only. The touchdown record was just a nice bonus along the way.

Now the time has come. It's do or die. It's win or go home to Atlanta and possibly never come back.

How could he not be feeling the pressure?

While Stegall wouldn't talk about it, some of his teammates did.

Quarterback Kevin Glenn, whose performance this month will play a big role in whether Stegall gets his ring, said a professional athlete can't let the stress of possibly playing his last game get to him.

"You can't think about it like that, and I don't think Milt thinks about it like that," Glenn said. "He's been playing this game for so long ... he's had a number of accomplishments, and the Grey Cup is an ultimate accomplishment for him, but I don't think it keeps him from sleeping at night.

"I just think it's one of those things that you put on the top of your list of goals, and if you're able to reach them, then you're able to reach them."

Now, that doesn't mean Glenn doesn't think about sending Stegall off into the sunset with a championship.

"I can't speak for the rest of the team, but I think about it sometimes," he said. "It could be his last game, and nobody knows but him -- him and his family -- whether or not it will be. So we just have to go out and we have to play. You don't want to put any added pressure on you, but what better way to go out than to win a Grey Cup?

"... When I think about it, I always think about (Pittsburgh Steelers running back) Jerome Bettis and his situation, and how he came back that next year and he actually got a chance to go to the Super Bowl and win one. I always think about that when I think about Milt's situation."

The fans are well aware that this could be it for the 37-year-old. There were several more autograph seekers at practice this week, several of whom waited around for more than an hour after practice to snag his signature. Fan websites have been imploring Winnipeggers to come out and watch his last home game.

Prospective Bomber owner David Asper even visited the dressing room this week to get Stegall's name on some paraphernalia.

Simply winning for Stegall today, next week and the week after that can't be Winnipeg's game plan. It doesn't mean, however, that Stegall's situation isn't an underlying motivation in the locker-room.

"It's not the main focus, but it's something that's there, and we all know the possibility of this being his last year," safety Kyries Hebert said.

"I remember the feeling last year, knowing that that could've possibly been his last game in Toronto, and I don't want to have that feeling again this year."

So all the time Stegall has put in over the last 13 years -- the practices, the games, the catches, the pushups, the sit-ups, the touchdowns, the public appearances, the meetings, the training camps, the icing, the travel -- could come to an end today in a mere 60 minutes.

Doesn't seem fair, does it?

Then again, as Stegall said so firmly this week, it's only football.

---

THE AMAZIN' MILT

Milt Stegall's career receiving numbers in the regular season:

GP Rec Yards TDs

1995 6 25 469 4

1996 11 34 613 6

1997 18 61 1,616 14

1998 7 32 403 7

1999 13 73 1,193 7

2000 16 78 1,499 15

2001 16 81 1,214 14

2002 18 105 1,862 23

2003 18 68 1,144 15

2004 16 68 1,121 7

2005 17 52 1,184 17

2006 14 79 1,269 7

2007 17 69 1,108 8

Totals 187 825 14,695 141

-Scored three touchdowns through other means, giving him 144 in his career

THE POST-SEASON

Stegall's career receiving numbers in the playoffs (including Grey Cup):

GP Rec Yards TDs

1995 1 5 78 0

1996 1 1 5 0

2000 2 9 140 2

2001 2 9 199 2

2003 1 0 0 0

2006 1 2 76 0

Totals 8 26 498 4

THE ACCOMPLICES

The list of quarterbacks -- and one running back -- who have thrown regular-season touchdown passes to Stegall:

Player TDs

Khari Jones 59

Kevin Glenn 35

Kerwin Bell 9

Chris Vargas 8

Kevin McDougal 7

Reggie Slack 7

Jay Walker 4

Pat Barnes 4

Russ Michna 2

Troy Kopp 2

Mike Quinn 1

Brian Ah Yat 1

Kent Austin 1

Dexter Dawson (RB) 1

THE VICTIMS

Regular-season touchdowns against each CFL team:

GP TD

Saskatchewan 22 24

Calgary 23 22

Toronto 26 20

Montreal 31 19

Hamilton 29 19

B.C. 24 18

Edmonton 22 14

Ottawa 10 8

THE TIMING

Regular-season touchdowns by quarter:

First 22

Second 34

Third 29

Fourth 59

THE ACCOLADES

- 2002 CFL Most Outstanding Player

- Six-time CFL all-star

- Eight-time division all-star


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