Stegall weighs in

Milt Segall poses with his son Chase and fan Richie Faveri yesterday while signing autographs at...

Milt Segall poses with his son Chase and fan Richie Faveri yesterday while signing autographs at the Bomber Store. (Paul Friesen/Sun Media)

PAUL FRIESEN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:33 AM ET

Kind of an interesting coincidence, isn't it: the Derick Armstrong saga unfolding just as Milt Stegall week gets underway in Winnipeg?

The retired receiver flew into town yesterday, signing autographs for a couple of hours. Tonight, at the Winnipeg Blue Bomber Legacy Dinner, he'll be inducted into the Bomber Hall of Fame.

And Stegall will be front-and-centre again, Friday, as he's honoured at the Bombers' home opener against Calgary.

So we thought it only natural to ask No. 85, one of the great team leaders in Bomber history and a mentor for Armstrong the last three seasons, for his take on the controversy surrounding his old teammate.

A former teammate who chose to sit on the bench rather than take a backup's role in Winnipeg's season-opener last week, then, when he found his locker cleaned out on the weekend, nearly came to blows in a shouting match with his head coach.

"If that's the case, I've never seen that," Stegall said of a player refusing to play. "It's crazy. I was surprised to hear it, because Derick is not the most outspoken guy. Derick is a good guy."

Stegall has kept in regular contact with players in the Bomber locker-room, particularly some of the receivers.

But he said he wasn't sure he had the whole story behind Armstrong's run-in with Mike Kelly.

I asked Stegall to put himself in Armstrong's shoes: if he'd been told, in his prime, that he was going to start a game on the bench, how would he have reacted?

The answer isn't what you might expect from someone who always talked about the team being more important than the individual.

"I'm a total team player," Stegall began. "But we're all egomaniacs. I was the No. 1 guy for a long time. That's hard to take.

"You've got to step back and say, 'Is this the best for the team?' I don't know what I would have said."

So Stegall couldn't rule out the possibility he'd have had a similar reaction to Armstrong's.

He didn't completely take the receiver's side, either.

But it's clear the competitor in him -- and nobody was more competitive than Stegall -- would have been flaring at the nostrils at the thought of being demoted.

All of this got me thinking: if Stegall had still been here, would things have turned out differently? Could the father figure of the receiving corps have defused this family spat, this ticking time bomb, before it exploded?

I put that question to the Bomber receivers yesterday, and the only one who'd put a hand on it was Arjei Franklin.

"All I can say is, Milt often gave us a lot of insight on points all the time," Franklin said. "In a situation like this, he would have also helped us out. But we're all professionals, and we make our own decisions."

Over to you, coach Kelly: could Milt have bailed you out of this mess, were he still in the locker-room?

"I don't know," Kelly began. "Milt accepted the role he found himself in the last few years, and understood it was for the good of the team. And that's what we're trying to do right now."

If you read that as one last shot at Armstrong, join the club.

One last thing: while Stegall didn't exactly take sides in this yesterday, he might during his first show as a TSN analyst, this Saturday.

"I'm sure they'll ask me," he said. "I'll take a side if they want me to."

Like a wily veteran of the media, though, Stegall wasn't about to give a newspaper hack the scoop.

"It'll be a spur of the moment thing," he said. "I'm going to be honest. But I'm not going to throw anybody under the bus. I'm a good politician. I can keep everybody happy."

That's why I can't help thinking if No. 85's locker wasn't empty this season, No. 83's wouldn't be right now, either.


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