Milt Stegall putting off CFL retirement

Slotback Milt Stegall, the Canadian Football League's all-time touchdown leader, announced Thursday he is returning for another season with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Veteran slotback Milt Stegall weighed the thoughts of his Winnipeg Blue Bombers teammates, former players and wife Darlene before he was convinced to play another season in the Canadian Football League.

A couple of former Bombers in particular, Harold Nash and Maurice Kelly, were instrumental in Stegall's decision that he made official Thursday during a conference call.

"Harold and Maurice are very good buddies of mine," Stegall, 38, told reporter Doug Harrison. "They always tell me [they would like to be in my position]. The fact they're not on the field anymore is hard on them.

"They said, 'As long as you can do it, continue doing it because once it's over, it's over.'"

Stegall, the CFL's all-time touchdown leader with 144, also sought the advice of Winnipeg quarterback Kevin Glenn and had a memorable conversation with Ryan Dinwiddie, who started in place of the injured Glenn in last year's Grey Cup.

"I talked to Ryan Dinwiddie a few weeks ago and he said, 'If you come back this year I guarantee you, if I'm with the Blue Bombers, we're going to find a way to win the Grey Cup.' That meant a lot to me," Stegall said.

But ultimately, Stegall's decision came down to family. Darlene has business commitments in Atlanta, where the Stegalls reside in the off-season, and his son Chase, 3, is settled in school.

In previous seasons, Stegall has lived apart from Darlene and Chase, but the plan is to have them in Winnipeg for the 2008 campaign, with Darlene expecting to give birth to the couple's second child in the summer.

"Like I always say, it's just football," said Stegall, who finished last season with 69 catches for 1,108 yards, his ninth consecutive 1,000-yard season. "If I was to retire, mentally it would have been tough to get over.

"I've been doing it since 1974 and missed one year when I was in eighth grade. [But] you've gotta find a way to move on. I've put myself in a position [financially] that when football leaves me, I'll be able to make a smooth transition [into the business world]."

Stegall taking it 'day by day'

Before last season, Stegall repeatedly said he was 99.9 per cent sure the 2007 season would be his last. On Thursday, the six-time CFL all-star said he would take this season "day by day."

Stegall led all receivers with five catches for 85 yards in a 23-19 loss to Saskatchewan in the 95th Grey Cup on Nov. 25 in Toronto.

"My wife saw how much I wanted to win that game and she saw the passion," said Stegall, who has yet to win the CFL championship in his 13 seasons. They came to an agreement on Jan. 27 that Stegall would continue playing.

Stegall reportedly played the final six regular-season games and three playoff contests of last season with a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder.

Winnipeg coach Doug Berry said Stegall has had surgery on the shoulder.

"He fought his way through it," said Berry. "He's a tremendous leader. There's a lot of intangibles that go along with it and Milt is very valuable in my estimation to this football team."

When asked if he will take a pay cut in 2008, Stegall, who reportedly made
more than $200,000 last season, said he and general manager Brendan Taman did some "creative financing."

Stegall's return allows Taman to direct his attention to re-signing some of his own free agents and those players who could become available when the CFL free-agent season begins Feb. 16.

Defensive lineman Tom Canada, and offensive linemen Dan Goodspeed and Matt Sheridan are among the unsigned Blue Bombers for 2008.

"I took into consideration that we could lose some great guys, but if we lose them, [Taman] will be able to replace them," said Stegall, who had the option in his contract picked up earlier this winter. "We still have some great guys under contract."

The CFL's most outstanding player in 2001, Stegall expects his teammates to come to training camp this summer with the hunger to return to the Grey Cup.

"I don't think coach Berry is going to allow us to lose that hunger," he said. "I told [the] guys, especially the young [players] … there's only eight teams [in the CFL] but it's still very difficult to get to that Grey Cup. Don't take it for granted. I think some guys took that to heart.

"That Grey Cup is a very sacred ground. It's going to be an interesting year. I think we're going to do some great things."

The same could be said for Stegall, who is 196 yards shy of Allen Pitts's all-time CFL receiving yardage record of 14,891.

"I haven't thought about that one. I really haven't," said Stegall, laughing.