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Phil

All-Time Record Falls

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This past weekend, one of the greatest athletes of his generation conquered one of the great milestones in professional sports, and it had nothing to do with 755. If you live south of the 49th parallel, you probably didn?t even see it on SportsCenter and, in fact, the vast majority of Americans won?t even recognize his name, apart from perhaps the ones who followed the Miami of Ohio football program closely during the late ?80s-early ?90s.

You see, at around 8:00pm CDT, on a one-yard shovel pass, Milt Stegall became the Canadian Football League?s all-time touchdown king, breaking a tie with two other players at 137.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers? 37-year old slotback may not be a household name like a Barry Bonds or a Jerry Rice, and even within Canada his notoriety is far exceeded by our native sons who make their living on a hockey rink; however, don?t be fooled. This is one of the greatest accomplishments you may hear about all year, especially if you?ve found yourself disgusted by the prevalence of artificially-enhanced athletes and their assault on some of the sporting world?s most prestigious marks.

Milt Stegall: A Brief Retrospective

Milt Stegall came to Winnipeg and the CFL with six games remaining in the 1995 season, after being released by the Cincinnati Bengals after 3 seasons and having been unable to crack the Green Bay Packers? lineup due to injury. His first touchdown came on September 19th of that year, on a 14-yard pass from Kevin McDougal at McMahon Stadium in Calgary, Alberta.

Few may have guessed at that time that this 25-year old would one day rewrite the record books, but a short 2 years later, people would start to see that the wiry receiver was not your average NFL castoff, earning a CFL all-star selection with 14 TDs and a 26.5 yard receiving average (a record that stands to this day).

Despite playing through some of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers? most difficult seasons (between 1997 and 1999, the Bombers compiled a dismal 13-41 record under the abysmal coaching and general managing of Jeff Reinebold), Stegall persevered. Then, in 2000, under head coach Dave Ritchie, the Blue crew started their charge towards the top of the league, which culminated in a 2001 Grey Cup appearance (one that will forever be remembered as the one kicker Troy Westwood lost). The Bombers remained the class of the league for the next few seasons, but became as characterized by their playoff disappointments as they were by their regular season triumphs.

Those were some of Stegall?s most productive seasons, and it earned him several more all-star nods (now as much a formality as anything) and, to no one?s surpise, a Outstanding Player award in 2002 as his 23 touchdown catches were a record not only for receiving majors, but for majors in general.

Since then, Milt has continued to defy the critics who say that his age has caught up to him; in fact, some of Stegall?s most inspiring games have come since his 35th birthday. A four catch, four touchdown performance at home against the BC Lions in 2005 was a sight to behold, but it was his no-time-left, 101-yard touchdown catch to come from behind and defeat the Edmonton Eskimos last season that may well be the most dramatic score of his career.

Touchdown Number 138

This last Friday was another day that will forever be remember as part of the legend of Milt Stegall. While many will question the place of the record-breaker as part of the Milt Stegall touchdownography ? the 1-yard shovel pass was certainly not the hallmark of his career ? one need only look at the drive that led to the score in its entirety to see the impact Milt continues to have on the field. Making clutch 2nd down catches to keep drives alive, making acrobatic downfield plays to chew up quick yardage, and finding holes in defences that regularly throw two (or more) defensive backs at him is no small order, but Stegall did it all, and so when #85 crossed the goal line with pigskin in tow to surpass Messrs. Reed and Pringle, there was not one in the capacity crowd of nearly 30,000 who felt cheated.

In fact, as the nearly 10 minute standing ovation continued, veteran sportscaster Chris Cuthbert of TSN noted that he didn?t know whether an outdoor stadium could get any louder. Yours truly was among the assembled masses, whooping and hollering in appreciation of the exploits of the living legend.

The game was stopped briefly to allow the CFL?s chief operating officer to make a presentation in front of 29,533 of Milt?s closest friends, but the din barely subsided even after the game had resumed and the ball had been kicked off several minutes later.

It's also worth noting that, later in the game, Stegall once again brought the crowd to its feet as he stole behind the Ti-Cat secondary and, by the very tips of his fingers, hauled in a beautifully-arching 35-yard toss and caught the corner of the endzone for touchdown #139, icing the game for his team and further stamping his name on the events of the evening.

What?s So Special?

As if breaking the biggest record in Canadian football isn?t special enough, a few additional factors I will highlight here multiply the significance.

For one, Stegall is a rarity in this day and age. Not only a near-lifetime CFLer (he had one additional taste of the NFL, a tryout with the New Orleans Saints that ended when we tore his MCL), but a career Blue Bomber, Stegall has shown loyalty to the city of Winnipeg in an era where top dollar and big markets reign. Arriving just as the NHL?s Jets were on their way out, Stegall has given a now-minor-league city major league entertainment for more almost 12 years, and has probably taken significantly less money than he could have requested elsewhere in order to remain with the Blue and Gold.

Loyalty is not his only positive trait either. The man has been nothing but an absolute gentleman throughout his entire career, on and off the field. Although, as an elite target, Milt has been subject to countless receivers trying to gain an edge through less-than-permitted on-field means, the man almost never loses his temper. Off the field, he volunteers his time endlessly and has a friendly relationship with the media and fans in general. He constantly reinforces team goals even as he approaches the lofty heights of the all-time CFL elite, and no close follower of the league is unaware that his priorities are his faith and his family, then football.

Furthermore, he broke the record held by two running backs. Although the CFL, with its larger field and three downs, places greater emphasis on the passing game, running backs still get more touches than any other non-quarterback and most backs don?t have to share the load with four, five, or even six other receivers at a time.

Finally, the two receivers who are directly behind him on the all-time touchdowns list, Allen Pitts and Brian Kelly, had the benefit of playing with individuals the average American football fan would know ? Doug Flutie and Warren Moon ? for most of their careers.

Apart from the three years or so in which Milt shared a hyper-productive relationship with quarterback Khari Jones and excluding also the Bombers? present quarterback Kevin Glenn, Stegall has never played with a quarterback who finished first in any major statistical category. Even CFL fans would be hard-pressed to name even two quarterbacks (beyond the aforementioned) who tossed TDs to Stegall (the list includes such memorable names as Troy Kopp, Brian Ah Yat, Dexter Dawson, Mike Quinn, and Pat Barnes).

Steroids?

Well, if you didn?t know better, you might be concerned ? as an example, one of his many nicknames is ?Turtle Man? because his teammate remarked that his abs resemble a turtle shell. However, his teammates will also be the first to tell you that he got that way through blood, sweat, and tears ? and 800-1000 or more pushups and crunches a day.

I mean, you know the guy is devoted and singularly motivated when you hear about his hobby? ?Sprinting,? says friend and former opponent Joe Montford. ?Any guy that has sprinting for a hobby? well, you know something is definitely wrong with him. We spent two hours trying to figure it out. It was, ?Maybe you could do this, maybe you could do that.? But it always came back to sprinting. That?s dull. That?s a bad hobby. I said, ?What are you going to teach your son, Milt?? His answer? ?Sprinting.?? Says Bombers? beat writer Ed Tait, ?He won?t eat red meat or drink alcoholic beverages and considers a slice of cheesecake pure extravagance.? Tait goes on to relate a story of how Stegall booked his hotel for his honeymoon based on the workout facilities ? while his wife slept in, he worked out.

And, oh, the Nicknames

He?s had a lot. Milt Stegall has not always just been Milt Stegall. ?Turtle Man? emerged around the Khari Jones era and, as discussed earlier, is a tribute to his rippling physique. ?The Touchdown Beagle? is a poetic tribute to his nose for the endzone. ?Chocolate Milt? is a fairly new one, a response to the popular local ?Got Milt?? campaign of last season. ?Quatre-vingt cinq? is also a newer one, a French tribute to Cincinnati Bengals? wideout Chad Johnson?s Spanish-language numeric nickname. According to a touching Father's Day article run in the Winnipeg Free Press this year, ?Daddy? is the nickname he says he loves most (his son, Chase, is two years old).

A nickname that might be yet on its way for Stegall, if he maintains his current pass-catching pace for the season, is all-time CFL receiving-yardage leader. Allen Pitts, the current leader, is less than 800 yards clear of Stegall with 12 games remaining in the 2007 season (widely expected to be Milt?s last).

Of course, the only nickname Milt truly desires now is ?Grey Cup Champion.? He says he can?t be held in the same esteem as some of his predecessors because he has never captured the elusive grail of CFL supremacy. While it?s still early, the Blue Bombers appear that they have as good a chance as any team in the CFL?s East Division to accomplish said feat ? as of now they lead the division with a record of 3-1-1, three points clear of both the Montréal Alouettes and Toronto Argonauts.

But regardless of whether on Sunday, November 25 in Toronto the Bombers are celebrating their first championship in over a decade and a half or if Milt is already making himself comfortable in the broadcast booth as an analyst (as he was last season with The Score television network), Milt Stegall will always be known as one of the best, if not the best, to step on a CFL field, and 29,533 fans in Winnipeg (along with hundreds of thousands across Canada) will always remember the night he was crowned the prime minister of paydirt, the sultan of six, the touchdown king.

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Milt is a class act and really epitomizes what a professional athlete SHOULD be. He will probably retire this year or next, but I think he has at least 5 good years left in him. He is, deservedly, the talk of the town right now. We're proud of you Milt!

I was actually in town when he broke the record, but couldn't go to the game due to a wedding I had to attend. I did watch the highlights though. Were you at the game?

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Yes, congrats to Stegall, one of the best.

(As for Pitts--he also had Jeff Garcia throwing him the ball.)

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Man I was so happy that Milt broke the record.. I wish I was at that game in person but dang had to watch on tv.. good thing I did tape the entire game for keepsake... Milt is a classy guy for sure.... my congratulatoins to him on topping that record that stood 32 years or so!! wow..

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Great job Milt, nobody deserves the record more then yourself.

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If only we had a guy like this hitting 756 home runs.

Kevin Glenn is actually familiar to me as he played college ball for Illinois State.

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Yes, congrats to Stegall, one of the best.

(As for Pitts--he also had Jeff Garcia throwing him the ball.)

I totally forgot about that... just serves to emphasize the point.

For the record, I was one of the 29,533 fortunate enough to witness this historic event. I was one of those guys standing on the bench (yeah, bench, they were $15 endzone tickets) in front of me, hollering at the top of my lungs for about ten or so minutes after he crossed the goal line.

He's been my favourite player for close to ten years now. I've met him once or twice in person, and each time you walk away with the feeling that he actually cared about what you had to say, and he appreciated the fact that you walked up to him. So even though I'm probably just one of the tens of thousands of fans that he's met in person over the years, I still felt like I had seen a good friend conquer one of the biggest records in the game. It's one of the top ten coolest moments of my life.

Fortunately, both of his touchdowns were into the endzone closest to us - in fact, after the second TD, he tossed the ball into the stands, and a guy two sections over caught it, not thirty feet from where my cousin was sitting. If I had bought my tickets the Safeway she bought hers at, maybe that could've been me!

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Congrats Milt

Pitts had Flutie also.

Phil mentions that, so I just added Garcia in there as well.

Oh and Phil--2001 will be remembered for other reasons than Troy Westwood's leg.

Like Joe Fleming's Sack on the last play of the game--when the Bombers still had a slim glimmer of hope.

And that blocked punt TD, etc, etc...

But let's not take anything away from Stegall...

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Does anyone know how this record stacks up against all-time PRO football touchdowns? Just wondering if this is only a CFL record or a Pro (CFL+NFL+*) record.

Kind of like how Allen broke the professional football record.

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Research from Wikipedia:

Most Rushing Touchdowns, Career, 164, Emmitt Smith

Most Receiving Touchdowns, Career, 197, Jerry Rice

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