Growing up as a kid in the Western New York area, I was heavily influenced by the two professional sports teams in the 716 area code: The National Hockey League’s Buffalo Sabres, and the National Football League’s Buffalo Bills.
Two teams with a huge fan base across the country, and two teams with iconic voices that will ring throughout Buffalo-lore.
The Sabres had a couple of iconic voices with Ted Darling and Rick Jeanneret. Darling passed away in 1996 due to Pick’s disease, and Jeanneret is about to call his final season of Sabres hockey this upcoming season.
For the Bills, it was Van Miller. Miller began his career as the voice of the Bills in the team’s inaugural season in 1960. He held that spot in the broadcast booth until 1971, when he left the team to be the play-by-play announcer of the National Basketball Association’s Buffalo Braves.
He remained with the Braves until its move to San Diego in 1978, in which Miller returned to the Bills broadcast booth. Miller would remain in the Bills booth until he retired following the 2003 Bills season, where John Murphy would take over his position.
Miller would remain in the press box at most Bills games, but just to watch and observe the game. But that did not mean that Miller was not an influence around the Buffalo media.
Unfortunately, on Friday July 17, 2015, Miller passed away at the age of 87.
I was unfortunate to have never met Miller, however, his voice was what made me love the Bills more than just for the game of football. When I watch a Bills game today, I can still imagine myself hearing Miller’s voice as if he was calling the game.
I was born just weeks before the Bills second consecutive Super Bowl appearance, against the Washington Redskins, so I do not remember the Bills being part of any of the four Super Bowls in the team’s history.
However, I remember a lot of Miller’s calls from the Super Bowl years thanks to my parents. They went out and bought the VHS tapes of the Bills’ Super Bowl seasons, which I watched a ton as a young kid. Even today, I can remember the calls from the Comeback Game, and other games that were significant in Bills history.
My dad also took me to at least a game a year when I was just a young kid. He also listened to the sports talk stations, including WGR 550, in which I would hear Miller’s voice quite frequently. Every Sunday, I would either watch the Bills on the television, or I would sit with my dad in his office as he worked and his paperwork and listened to the Bills on his hand cranked radio.
My dad was, quite possibly, the biggest reason why I got into sports the way I do today.
My first vivid memory of a Bills game was in 1998 when the Bills played the Jacksonville Jaguars on October 18, 1998. It was Doug Flutie’s first start in the NFL in eight seasons, and he scored the winning touchdown on a 4th-down bootleg with just 16-seconds left in the game.
I remember getting home after the game and hearing Van Miller’s call of the Flutie touchdown, and it was amazing to a six-year old me.
I looked forward to listening to Miller’s call of the Bills every Sunday up until his last game in 2003.
His last game was on December 27, 2003 against the New England Patriots, where the Bills were crushed at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, 31-0. I remember listening to Miller, and the sadness in his voice when he signed off for the final time as the voice of the Buffalo Bills. I felt sad as well as a young Bills fan, knowing that Miller will no longer be in the booth as the voice of my favorite football team.
To this day, I still see Van Miller as the official voice of the Bills, not John Murphy. And that is nothing against Murphy, as he is a great presence in the broadcast booth.
Even to this day today, Miller still has an influence on me as a play-by-play broadcaster. I grew up listening to Miller and Rick Jeanneret, and every time I would watch a Bills or Sabres game, I would try to emulate each broadcaster’s voice.
Now as a 23-year old, I have learned from Miller and Jeanneret’s styles of broadcasting and use what I have learned into my broadcasting style.
Van Miller was not only an idol for me, but he was an icon for all Buffalo fans, and he will surely be missed amongst many. If I were to have met Miller, I would have told him thank you for making every Sunday one to look forward to, and also thank you for being the idol I have looked up to for years.
As Miller would say, “Where would you rather be than right here, right now?”
His voice symbolized the words “Bedlam,” “Pandemonium,” and especially “Fandemonium.” And it was truly, fantastic.
Thank you for all the memories, Van. May you rest in peace.