Stegall showing his age?

Milt Stegall started feeling discomfort in his knee in late March and recently had arthroscopic...

Milt Stegall started feeling discomfort in his knee in late March and recently had arthroscopic surgery, which means he will miss Bombers training camp. SUN MEDIA/Jason Halstead

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:37 AM ET

If it were another player, you'd think it was a classic case of a veteran using any excuse to skip training camp.

But when it's practice and workout fiend Milt Stegall, it's a sure bet this is legit.

The Winnipeg Blue Bomber receiver yesterday revealed a knee injury will keep him off the field throughout camp, which opens for veterans on the weekend.

During a conference call yesterday, the 38-year-old said he isn't sure when he'll be ready to play, even leaving open the possibility he could miss the season opener against the East Division rival Toronto Argonauts, June 27.

"I expect to be ready when I'm ready," Stegall said, speaking in the cryptic fashion we've become used to when he discusses injuries. "No date has been given. When it's feeling like it's ready to go, that's when I'm going to step back on the field."

Stegall says he first felt discomfort in the knee in late March, during off-season workouts. When rest didn't solve the problem, he saw a doctor, consulted with the Bombers and opted for arthroscopic surgery, May 2.

While he said there was no tear of a ligament or cartilage, Stegall was unable to provide a diagnosis.

"It was basically saying that Milt Stegall's been playing football for a long time and it caught up with him a little bit," he explained. "They had to go in there and do a couple of things, clean out some stuff."

Bomber GM Brendan Taman described it as "maintenance" -- the cleaning out of some cartilage.

The team chose to make the announcement before camp opens because they didn't want it to be the focus when players take the field.

It's an unexpected development, to be sure, and it raises a possibility nobody really wants to discuss: is Stegall hanging on too long, pushing his hall-of-fame career further than common sense dictates?

The surgery was nearly four weeks ago. By the time the Argos roll into town, it'll be eight weeks.

HEALING POWERS

Obviously, the man's healing powers, like any 38-year-old, ain't what they used to be.

"There's a little bit of a concern there, that it's not a normal 25-year-old," Taman said. "I'm not too worried about it. He's in better shape than most guys on our team."

That's always been the case, and it's why Stegall has been able to perform at such a high level for so long.

But every athlete reaches a point where the body just can't do it anymore.

Stegall has had his share of nicks over his career, but never anything major. The wear and tear, though, adds up. Put enough miles on man, just like a car, and it begins to break down.

The fact Stegall began to experience pain while simply working out, and not from a hit by a 240-pound linebacker, is a not-so-subtle reminder his time is nearing an end.

Stegall is expected to attend camp, treating the injury here until he's 100%. Assuming it eventually gets there.

One thing is certain: he's not someone to play out the string at half-speed.

"I'm sure if I can't do the things I'm usually capable of doing, they won't have me on the field," he said. "I'm no good, then. They pay me a decent penny and they expect me to do some things."

Nobody wants to see one of the CFL's all-time greats hobble through an injury-plagued final year, tarnishing an otherwise sparkling career.

Who knows, maybe it is just maintenance, like the procedure Tiger Woods had after the Masters. And maybe No. 85 will continue to be his old self this season.

But Stegall, like many athletes whose competitive fire still burns into their late thirties, is pushing it.

And you can bet he knows it better than anyone.

If he'd forgotten, he just got an off-season reminder.


Videos

Photos