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Ten years later, Van Miller hasn't lost passion for Bills football

Posted Oct 17, 2013

In the ten year anniversary season of Van Miller's retirement from a long and legendary tenure as the Voice of the Bills, he reflected on his life in retirement, love for football, and how he followed his passion into a career that became much more than that.


When the Buffalo Bills took the field for the first time on July 30, 1960 at War Memorial Stadium, Van Miller was there.

When the Bills won consecutive AFL Championships in 1964 and 1965, Van Miller was there.

When the Electric Company made defenses stand down like nothing anybody had ever seen, Van Miller was there.

When the Bills made the Greatest Comback in NFL history, Van Miller was there.

When the team went to 4 straight Super Bowls, Van Miller was there.

And attending all of these moments from their cars, living rooms and front porches in Buffalo and across America were men and women of all ages, making memories of their own with Van Miller as their guide on the radio waves, taking them play-by-play through some of the most iconic moments in Buffalo Bills history.

As the voice playing in your head when you reminisce about those memories, or the one you hear over and over again in TV and radio replays of old Bills highlights, it’s hard to believe his resonant tone has been off the air for ten years now.

Of course, Van Miller is never really gone.

While he’s long passed down his title to his former color commentator John Murphy and his body doesn’t allow him the mobility it used to, Miller has never stopped coming to the Ralph on gamedays or to Bills Training Camp in preseason.

“I don’t miss a game,” said Miller, looking out from a broadcast booth onto an empty pregame Ralph Wilson Stadium field. “I’m here all the time. I still own 8 season tickets. I just enjoy the game so much.”

It’s that love for the game, for the sport of football itself, which brought him into the sports broadcasting world in the first place and what keeps him coming with genuine enthusiasm after all these years.  

“I did my first Notre Dame football game when I was ten years old,” said Miller in his characteristically deadpan style.  “I was sitting on my back stoop talking into egg beaters, into funnels, into the hose. My mom said, ‘Van, come on in. It’s time for dinner.’ I said, ‘Mom, I can’t. Notre Dame is on a drive. They’re moving the ball.’ She’d say, ‘Have them call a timeout.’ I’d say ‘Mom, they don’t have any timeouts.’ She’d say, ‘Well I’ve got your favorite dinner here. A 37 cent can of spam.’

"So I got Angelo Bertelli to throw a touchdown pass and they made the extra point and went ahead of Army and beat them for the 41st time in a row.” After a pause for dramatic effect and a wink he added, “Well, you know, it was all in my head.”

RELATED: Van Miller's 50th Anniversary All-Time Team

During his high school years, Miller was in a serious accident which left him in the hospital for almost three months, and when he found out be wouldn’t be able to return to the football field as a player, he decided he’d use his passion for the game and (by that time) well-practiced backyard broadcasting skills to pursue football through another avenue.

After one year at Syracuse University and another three at SUNY Fredonia, he talked his way into calling high school football games for $7 each.  The experience, though not financially sustainable, proved to be an invaluable springboard that set him on a path towards a career that would define him, and he it.

“I’ve prided myself in my enthusiasm for the game,” he said. “I tried to build to a crescendo on a drive. That’s why football is such a great game. You’ve got a minute to play. You’ve got the ball at midfield. You need a touchdown to win the game. That’s when it gets really important.”

He would become the first and longest tenured Voice of the Bills, starting on day one of the franchise and ending 44 years later. As he put it, he “should have been there for all 44 years,” but spent seven of them on a Bills hiatus calling Buffalo Braves NBA games. As a renaissance man of the sports broadcasting world, he also called college basketball, baseball and auto racing, and was a TV and radio sports anchor throughout those four plus decades.

“I wasn’t a homer,” he said. “I never said ‘we’ when I was talking about the Buffalo Bills. I always believed in objectivity and being honest. I gave Dan Marino as much credit for a touchdown pass as I did Jim Kelly, because he deserved it. He made a great play. This game is built on great plays. Football is the world’s greatest game. The National Football League is the greatest league in the history of sports, and it always will be. It’s perfectly suited for the fan.”

As charismatic and sharp as he’s always been – though not clad in the fur coats he says he grew out of when they were 'no longer en vogue' – Miller knows but downplays the personal impact he’s made on the lives of hundreds of thousands of Bills fans.

“When somebody aims a camera at me at Training Camp, I say, ‘Don’t take that picture. You come over here and stand next to me and I’ll get somebody to take our picture together,’” he said. “And that makes them feel good. I will never let anybody take a picture of me unless they’re in it.”

Though he’s ten years retired as the Voice of the Bills, as long as those memories live on through the fans who spent every Sunday for 37 years in his company, Van Miller will truly never be gone.