Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Thanks for the memories, Van.

This week, Van Miller will provide the play-by-play services for the Bills' radio broadcast for the last time. He's been doing this for 37 years, which means that he's been doing Bills games longer than I've been alive. Gregg Easterbrook mentioned Miller in yesterday's TMQ column (about two-thirds of the way down) in which he describes a particular instance of Miller's football knowledge and prescience.

It's hard to imagine someone else's voice coming over the radio next season, and it's likewise hard to imagine games without Miller's little verbal quirks:

:: "Fasten your seatbelts!" He generally says this whenever a crucial play is about to take place, no matter which side of the ball the Bills are playing.

:: "How do ya like that!" Miller usually says this after anything sudden and unexpected happens, for good or ill. (In recent years, it's been a lot of ill.)

:: "It's pandemonium! It's fan-demonium!" Yeah, this one's cheesy as hell, but it's also infectious as hell to here Miller shouting this old chestnut into the mike, nearly drowned out by crowd noise, whenever the Bills score.

:: There used to be a referee in the NFL named Red Cassion who, when making his announcements to the stadium crowd, would stretch the word "down" wwaayy out, like this: "Holding, offense. Ten yard penalty, repeat second dooooowwwwwnnnnn...." I once heard Cassion do this, and immediately thereafter, Van Miller says, "I don't know how that guy gets five syllables out of 'dooooowwwwwnnnnn."

:: There were a few games when Doug Flutie was the Bills' starting quarterback in which Flutie's antics, in which he would seemingly run around with no idea whatsoever what he was doing, reduced Miller to a mere sputter. I seem to recall him recovering at one point and saying, "Well, I don't know what Flutie did, folks, but he gained eight yards and a first down on that."

:: Miller's one bad habit was that he never gave the score very often. If you simply tuned the game in, planning to listen until you got the score, you could end up listening for most of an entire quarter.

:: For me, the memory of Miller shouting "The Bills have won it! The Bills have won it!" over and over, after the Bills won that comeback game against Houston in the 1992 playoffs, is as indelible in my mind as what is probably the most famous radio sports call of all time, "The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!" Now, I watched the game on TV and thus did not hear Miller's call as it happened, but I've never seen footage of that game's end without Miller's call dubbed over it. (The NFL Films highlight reel of that game uses Miller's call, for example.)

The local sports radio station, WGR, once tried to see what it would have sounded like had Scott Norwood's field goal in Super Bowl XXV been good. They did this by splicing Miller's call from that game, right up to that kick, with Miller's "The Bills have won it!" immediately after. It wasn't terribly convincing...but I doubt there's a Bills fan in this world who hasn't imagined precisely that call. It's too bad that in 37 years, Miller never got to shout the words, "The Bills win the Super Bowl!" into the radio mike.

(And it's also too bad that he has to go out calling a game from Foxboro. Poor guy.)

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