Made from the heart

Milt Stegall is taking a large pay cut to play for the Bombers next season. (SUN MEDIA/Marcel...

Milt Stegall is taking a large pay cut to play for the Bombers next season. (SUN MEDIA/Marcel Cretain)

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:54 AM ET

Oh, great -- we're stuck with Milt Stegall for another year.

Another season of hearing how he's the best-looking man in the CFL. Another half-dozen references, at least, of his six guarantees in life, one of which is that he'll always be good looking.

Another five months of being told he doesn't care about records or touchdowns or if he doesn't catch another pass, as long as he wins the Grey Cup.

Then again, as Stegall also loves to point out, it's another season of good quotes for us ink-stained wretches, giving us work for another year. Thank you, Milt.

When will it end?

Apparently, not even Stegall knows for sure. So much for being 99.9% certain that last year was it.

The .1% came through yesterday, as the Blue Bombers held a conference call which the CFL's touchdown king began with this:

"I'm not going to beat around the bush," Stegall said from his home in Atlanta. "We decided I'm going to come back and play another year."

This is getting to be as predictable as another farewell tour by The Who. It's the boy who cried wolf too often. If Stegall walks off the field at the end of next season and says he's done, we'll probably ignore him.

Actually, there's one major surprise in all this: that Stegall is actually taking a pay cut.

And not just a little trim, either.

The Bombers won't confirm it, but it's believed No. 85 is swallowing his jersey number -- in thousands, agreeing to cut his salary (estimated at $240,000 last season) to around $160,000.

This is a small miracle. Kind of like getting Keith Richards to cut his Jack Daniels intake in half.

We're talking about a man who charged his buddies 40% interest when he lent them money in high school. A guy who, on road trips, brings restaurant leftovers back to his hotel room for later. Someone who, for years, rented the basement of a Winnipeg home during the season so he could limit his expenses.

We can only assume that with his pregnant wife and son expected to join him here this season he's at least renting a bigger basement.

Smart with his money, Stegall always calls it.

Although a man could do worse for six months' work, this was clearly not a business decision.

"It's one made with my heart," Stegall said. "Of course, we're not going to play football for free, don't get me wrong. I understand my value. But I put myself in a position, when football leaves me, I'll make a smooth transition. Financially, I'm ready for when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers aren't paying me anymore."

This certainly makes things smoother for the Bombers.

A while back, I surmised the team might be better off without Stegall, considering its salary cap crunch.

Tom Canada and Dan Goodspeed are headed for the free-agent market, Kevin Glenn, Derick Armstrong and Terrence Edwards for the renegotiating table.

Given Stegall's potential paycheque, not to mention the closing of a loophole that's going to add a few hundred thousand bucks to the payroll this year, GM Brendan Taman was going to have an easier time fitting into a tutu than into the $4.2-million cap.

Some unpleasantries remain, but Stegall's flexibility at least makes the whole thing doable.

The Bombers hope it causes a few other players to rethink their demands. I guess we'll see if Stegall's legendary leadership extends from the locker-room all the way to the bank.

So if it isn't the money bringing Stegall back, what is it?

There's that elusive championship, of course, something Stegall hasn't been able to get his mitts on in high school, college or the pros.

But it's more than that.

Most players can't quit until someone forces them to, and here's where the best receiver in CFL history is just like all the rest.

Former teammates Harold Nash and Maurice Kelly, friends of Stegall's who work for NFL teams, told him it's killing them not to play anymore.

"Mentally, I don't think anybody can get prepared," Stegall said. "And those guys are very successful, smart, with great families. But the fact they're not on that field anymore, it takes a while to get over it. So they said as long as you can do it, continue doing it."

The risk, especially for the great ones, is they overstay their welcomes. Nothing tarnishes an image quite like a bad final season.

Stegall, of course, won't let that happen.

After all, he's guaranteed it.


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