‘It’s because I have a big ego’: Milt Stegall excited for temporary Winnipeg Blue Bombers return

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

Milt Stegall is returning to the field with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers for the first time in 16 years and spoke plainly when explaining his decision to rejoin the team on a (very) short-term basis.

“It’s because I have a big ego — let’s be honest, that’s it,” Stegall told the media via videoconference on Monday, chuckling as he spoke. “When I turned 50, I told my wife, ‘I would love to go through a training camp’ and she thought I was crazy and she thinks I’m crazy now.”

“I’m excited and nervous, it’s like my first training camp — that’s what I feel like, like this is my first training camp. I don’t know what to expect, I don’t know what’s gonna happen, but I’m gonna go out there and enjoy myself and have a good time. I’m playing with house money, as they say, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Stegall will participate in the first day of rookie camp with the Blue Bombers on Wednesday, May 8. He first cleared the idea with his boss at TSN, Paul Graham, before approaching the club. He was a teammate of Wade Miller, the club’s president and CEO, for 11 seasons, which was likely a factor in this opportunity coming to fruition.

The 54-year-old has been vocal on social media regarding his desire to return to the field and indicated that multiple CFL teams reached out to him to make arrangements. He wasn’t sure how serious the offers were but ultimately decided that if he was going to play again, it would have to be in Winnipeg where he spent his entire CFL career.

“I told them, ‘If this is gonna happen, it’s gonna happen in Winnipeg,'” said Stegall. “Will it happen again after that? I don’t know, but initially it has to happen in Winnipeg, the place where I played 14 years and made me into the individual I am today. We’ll see what happens after this happens.”

When asked about the possibility of suffering an injury, Stegall grimaced. He insisted that he’s focused on “positive vibes” and said the worst thing that could happen is a broken finger, which wouldn’t matter because his fingers are “already broke anyway.” Fortunately for Stegall, there’s no hitting in rookie camp, so he’s not at risk of getting crushed over the middle. With that said, he also admitted it’s been close to 10 years since he last caught a pass, so perhaps his fingers will be in danger after all.

The fitness aficionado broke the mold often during his Hall of Fame career and did so again on Monday, expressing his excitement to experience the thing veteran players most dread.

“On Thursday, I want to wake up and have that training camp soreness — that’s something I’ve been longing for for 16 years and there’s nothing else like it. I’ve been trying to get sore, I’ve been working out, but there’s nothing that can duplicate that training camp soreness. I’m hoping when I wake up Thursday morning, I’m walking around like an old man because I’m so sore. That’s what I’m really looking forward to.”

When asked if any of his former teammates might look to follow in his footsteps by participating in future rookie camps, Stegall expressed doubt, saying, “Those guys don’t work out like me and they don’t train like me.” If he could pick any former teammate to join him on Wednesday, he answered immediately.

“Charles Roberts,” he said. “He would be OK because he didn’t train before training camp anyway, so he was never in shape. I think he would be fine, just give him a couple of Red Bulls and a Snickers — that was his pregame meal — and he’d be fine.”

Stegall indicated that head coach Mike O’Shea and his staff will help ensure there’s no interference for the rookies looking to make an impact on Wednesday. He’s not sure if the other players in attendance will be told ahead of time about his participation but vowed to help them by offering the wisdom he gained during his playing career.

“If they figure out that this guy played the league for a long time and that he had some success and if they’re willing to listen to me, I will give them any pointers I can. Besides that, if they don’t want to listen to me, I understand that, too,” said Stegall.

“I understand it’s a critical time for these young guys. This is where they get most of their reps because when all the veterans come in (for training camp), that’s when they have to take a backseat. … I’m gonna have some fun with them and try to loosen them up. I know they’re a nervous wreck with their first opportunity getting the chance to make a professional football team, so I’m going to try to be loose and enjoy it as much as I can.”

It appears this will be the last time a member of the Stegall family suits up for the Blue Bombers as neither of the legendary receiver’s sons followed in his footsteps.

Stegall’s older son, Chase, played soccer, basketball, and football as a young child but dropped football by the time he was nine or ten. He stopped playing basketball in grade 10 to focus on his goal of playing soccer in college and the decision paid off as he redshirted this past season at DePaul University, a Division I program located in Chicago.

“I hate to say it, but he’s in better shape and faster than me now,” said Stegall. “That hurt me.”

Collin, Stegall’s second son and the only one born in Winnipeg, is also an avid soccer player. Now in grade nine, he never played football, citing his unwillingness to get hit.

“My wife and I, we’re soccer parents,” said Stegall. “(Our sons both) enjoy it, it keeps them in shape, and it keeps them involved in a team sport. My wife and I, now that we understand the game, have an excellent time watching them play.”

Stegall will hit the field with the rest of Winnipeg’s rookies on Wednesday, May 8 at 10:30 a.m. at the field beside Winnipeg Soccer Federation South. The event is open for fans, many of whom are probably just as excited to watch Stegall play as he is about suiting up for the first time since 2008.

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.