July 9, 2019

One-on-one with Mike Miller

Winnipeg Blue Bombers #24 Mike Miller

It’s hardly a high profile gig and it rarely garners any attention.

And so days like this – when Mike Miller gets a public slap on the back as one of the Canadian Football League’s Top Performers – often comes around only once, if at all, in the career of a special teams guy. And truthfully, that’s how the 30-year-old veteran Winnipeg Blue Bomber would prefer things.

Make no mistake, Miller is one of the best special teams players in the league. It can be thankless work, but he’s completely cool with being singled out by teammates in the film room for the important-yet-invisible-to-the-average-fan work he and the other foot soldiers do on every kick-cover and kick-return unit.

In last Friday’s win over the Ottawa REDBLACKS, Miller tied a CFL record with seven special teams tackles. And when the Bombers returned to the practice field on Monday, Miller stood in front of a throng of media to answer questions.

Jokingly asked later how he might prevent all this attention from going to Miller’s head, Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea grinned and said:

“East Coaster. Enough said.”

There’s more to Mike Miller than the basic height/weight/age that you might read in a media guide bio. And to that end, chatted with the special teams ace in our third instalment of ‘One-on-One With…’

We know you are a proud Maritimer who hails from Riverview, New Brunswick. So, let’s begin with this: is Mike Miller a big deal in Riverview?

(Chuckles) Nah, I don’t think so. My wife (Erica) would say I am, but I don’t think so. When I see guys I played football with in the past or coaches, they are happy to see me, but I wouldn’t consider myself a big deal.

OK, but wait a minute. We Googled ‘notable people from Riverview, N.B.’ and you were one of six names that popped up…

Really? Is that right?

Yup. Hang on while I spit this out:

– There’s Travis Jayner, who was born in Riverview and was a member of the U.S. speed skating team in the Vancouver Olympics.
– There’s Michael LeBlanc, who ran track for Canada.
– There’s Jordan Murray, who plays for the Belleville Senators in the AHL.
– There’s Todd Smith, who is currently the Ontario Minister of Children, Community and Social Services.
– There’s Charles Foster, who is now deceased, but as a writer used to write jokes for Bob Hope and Jack Benny and did some scripts for ‘The Beverly Hillbillies.
– And of course, there’s Mike Miller, CFL special-teams ace.

That’s wild. I knew about Jayner and also Michael LeBlanc and Murray. But I didn’t know I was on a list like that.

Let’s go back to your early days. I understand you played a ton of sports as a kid. How did you get the football bug?

I played hockey, track, volleyball and football. I actually went away to Australia for a year with my mom when she did a teacher exchange. So, I missed a year of hockey. But when I was down there I played Aussie Rules Football and it was a blast, a real fun sport.

When I came back it was kind of up in the air with what I was going to do. I was going into my midget year in hockey and if I made the Triple-A team I was probably going to focus just on hockey. But I ended up getting cut, so I played high school hockey and high school football.

It worked out great.

Favourite Aussie Rule Football club, then?

Adelaide Crows. Any time I can catch it on TSN 3 or 4 or whatever, I’m watching it.

Do you work in the offseason or focus on training?

I train and then I do the dad thing (son Ethan is four; daughter Cody is one). It’s awesome I get to spend a lot of time with the kids.

Along those lines, we asked Matt Nichols this earlier and pose the same question to you: how has fatherhood changed your outlook, if at all, on the wins and losses and the good days and bad days you might have?

I just better understand the reality of this occupation now as opposed to before, when I didn’t have kids. You just want to make sure you’re doing all the right things possible now because that’s what is putting food on the table.

That ‘reality of the occupation’ must have hit home when the Edmonton Eskimos released you in the offseason of 2017 – just after leaving the CFL in special teams tackles. And then two days later you signed with the Bombers. But what was going through your head in between the release and signing here? Were you forced to think about life after football?

Definitely I thought about that. It was new to me because I had never been released before. After I got the phone call (from the Eskimos) I called my agent to let him know and see if we could contact other teams.

But I remember waiting at home, hearing there was interest but wondering if something would come to fruition. I was sitting on the couch contemplating ‘What am I going to do next if this is the end? What’s my next move?’ It was scary.

What are your plans for after football, then, or are you living in the moment a bit?

Hard to say. In university I went into kinesiology, thinking I would get into physio-therapy or chiropracting. But I didn’t know I’d have as long of a career in football as I’ve had now. I’m trying to enjoy football as much as I can right now and once I’m done I’ll reassess things and see what’s out there.

That has to be one of the things you are most proud of in your football career. You weren’t drafted. You’ve changed from defence to offence and here you are nine years later still playing.

I remember my rookie camp in Edmonton. Undrafted, as you said, and when I showed up they didn’t really know where to put me. I was a DB in university, so I just went to the weak halfback position because that’s what I played in college and they were short there. I stayed there all of rookie camp and I guess turned some heads.

They moved me to linebacker once we got to main camp and I was able do some things on special teams in the preseason to end up making the team. But yeah, I tell guys all the time I would have been happy just to play my rookie contract out. That would have been a great career.

It sounds like both Jake Thomas – another New Brunswick guy – and Nichols were influential in helping you get here.

I’ve known Jake since university and we get together every now and again in the offseason because we’re close to each other. And Matt – he and J.C. (Sherritt) – we were pretty much all friends right from when I got there. We hung out tons and now our families are really close.

When I did become a free agent and Matt found out there was an offer from Winnipeg he gave me the info what was going on here and I was excited to sign.

More on your relationship with Matt… I was in a car once with him, our media team and a few other players and he put on his playlist. It included Great Big Sea, a Newfoundland band, and said he was put on to them by you. What’s on Mike Miller’s playlist?

I like oldies. Good drinking vibe music. So, whatever you can have beers to, I’m good with it. The song Matt probably played was ‘The River Driver’ which is a jig. You can just picture people chugging their beers as they’re singing to it. I like Fleetwood Mac, Bob Seger… just stuff that is fun to drink to and sing to with the boys.

Finally, can we talk about your tattoo sleeves? You’ve had a lot of work done on both arms. What do all these represent?

They all have meaning. I started out with this – the Arcangel Michael – when I was in Edmonton. It’s symbolic as the protector. I have my mom and my two sisters and as the oldest I was always in the protector role. Then I got three doves to represent them.

I have an alarm clock, which coincides with the heart, because when I was growing up everyone would say it was ‘Miller time’ – that was my persona on the rink or on the field. When I got engaged I got a ship with an anchor and a oar, which represented our new journey together. I have the Miller family crest, which my grandfather in Ontario always had hanging up in his basement.

This one, the lighthouse, I got when I became a dad. A lighthouse is a guiding light. I have a boy in a rowboat for Ethan, as he will eventually go on his own path and hopefully I can guide him. When we had Cody I got a compass with a silhouette of a dad and his daughter and a treasure map.