Who wouldn't love to walk into a party like this?
A room full of strangers. Most slightly tipsy. When you walk into the crowded bar, they make room for you. They reach out and pat you on the back, smiles on their faces, excitement in their voices. They shout your name, tug at your sport coat, take your picture, and most of them have never met you.
Van Miller walked into a party like that one night in Ft. Lauderdale, and I walked right behind him. The occasion—a Bills fan party sponsored by restaurateur Russell Salvatore at Shooter's Bar on the Intra-Coastal. It's the night before the Bills-Dolphins Monday night game in November 1988. Van decided he and I should go.
We piled out of the cab and once I saw the long line of fans waiting to get into Shooter's, I was looking down the street for another place to have a beer. Van plunged into the crowd, and I followed in his wake.
Longtime Voice of the Bills Van Miller is the 2014 Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame inductee. Here are a few photos from his storied career with the team.
They made room for Van, they were beaming just to see him and shout his name. They reached for him and hugged him. And Van reached back.
Dozens of young women that night were asked "What happened to your other earring?" Once they reached for their ear lobe, and realized the earring was still in place, Van had them—a connection.
Several young men heard Van use their names in phony play-by-play calls, all of the calls ending with the victim fumbling the go-ahead touchdown at the one yard line. They doubled over in delight. Van had them also—another connection.
That's what Van Miller did. He connected. On the broadcast, and off. Van's ability to reach out and engage listeners, to tap into their emotion, to convey his emotion, to perfectly capture the essence of the game, are what made him a Hall of Fame broadcaster.
He was a Hall of Fame person as well. Van took time to schmooze with Bills fans no matter the time or place. On almost every road trip, our Sunday morning departure from the team hotel was delayed a few minutes, while Van chatted up the latest group of friends he had made in the lobby. If he liked them, they might wind up with press passes to the game—a chance to sit in the radio booth and watch his play by play artistry at close range. And if he had a new live audience in the radio booth, it was game on. Van would ham it up—entertaining our guests in the booths with all the same jokes and stories he told for years and years. And they always got a laugh, thanks to Van's exquisite comic timing and his playful delivery.
I worked alongside Van Miller on the Bills' broadcasts and learned virtually everything I know about broadcasting from him. And there was never a lesson plan. I learned by observing--by watching his total immersion in the moment, the way he would react to the game and to the crowd reacting to the game. He let himself get carried away by the emotions of the day and in that way, connected with his audience of Bills fans. He was the master of genuine, unforced enthusiasm and he knew how to convey that energy and enthusiasm to radio listeners in their homes, cars, and the seats in the stadium.
He connected on every level. He took his listeners on a three hour roller coaster ride through the ups and downs of a Bills football game. He felt every twist and turn, every bump on the track, and conveyed the exhilaration and excitement when the ride was over.
His ride is over now. Fasten your seat belt, Van.