January 19, 2023

“He’s a terrific athlete” | Miller extends his legacy in Winnipeg

His Winnipeg Blue Bombers teammates respectfully and lovingly refer to him as the ‘GOAT’ – Greatest Of All Time – and even made spiffy blue T-shirts with his number emblazoned on a outline of a gold goat to celebrate Mike Miller becoming the Canadian Football League’s all-time special teams tackles leader in 2021.

The ’GOAT’ tag is a big one, and if you know Miller at all, well, you know he’d just as soon stiff-arm that moniker to the ground.

“I will say it was a thoughtful gesture and it’s cool that your teammates did all that, but I’m not a big fan of all that stuff,” Miller said with a laugh when reached by at his offseason home in Riverview, N.B. Thursday night. “I don’t consider myself a ‘GOAT’ so sometimes when I hear people saying that I don’t know… to me, it’s a bit uncomfortable.”

Miller put his name on a one-year contract with the Blue Bombers this week before he was to hit free agency next month and the news means a couple of things for the man and his team. First, it means Miller – who turns 34 in March – will continue to add to his legacy in Blue Bombers colours. And as much as he’d like to shy away from the accolades, it is truly a legacy he’s built.

Second, the Blue Bombers return a player who is more than just heart and guile, but one of the quiet leaders in their clubhouse. Signed by Edmonton as an undrafted free agent out of Acadia University back in 2011, Miller didn’t just crack the roster in the Alberta capital, but quickly became a tackling machine on the kick-cover units. He now has 226 career special-teams tackles, more than 36 and counting than the No. 2 man on the list, former B.C. Lion Jason Arakgi.

He arrived in Winnipeg in 2017, scooped up just hours after being released by Edmonton as the three men atop the Blue Bombers football brain trust – President & CEO Wade Miller, GM Kyle Walters and head coach Mike O’Shea – all have a soft spot for the often unsung foot soldiers on special teams.

O’Shea, in fact, knew how good Miller was before he arrived in Winnipeg. And then recognized how special he was from the very first day Miller stepped on the field in training camp.

“We were doing competitive special-team drills and he would just keep winning them. And a lot of times it wasn’t even close,” O’Shea said Thursday. “As I watched him more and more I just went, ‘Huh.’ I didn’t say, ‘Wow, his hands are good.’ Or ‘Wow, this is the reason he won.’ It’s hard to describe unless you’re watching him. We knew he was good, and we knew we wanted him on our team.

“It wasn’t any one specific thing. It wasn’t a move or anything. But he’s as tough as they come and just instinctively finds an edge. And when I say ‘edge’, he just found a way to win no matter if his opponent might be faster or bigger than him by all kinds of different means. If he needs to be slippery, he’s slippery. If he needs great core strength, he’s got great core strength… it’s almost chameleon-like.

“Whatever it needs to be on that particular play, it’s instinctive to him, it’s guile. Part of that comes from experience, I guess, but he’s been good for a long time, and he’s done a lot of winning.”

“He’s a terrific athlete,” O’Shea continued. “Look at his history. He’s played good hockey. He played Australian Rules football when he lived there. He’s played football… I don’t know if there’s a particular sport he couldn’t do and do well. That part of it shouldn’t be forgotten – he’s an all-round athlete.”

Consider his resumé: Miller has led or tied for the team lead in special teams tackles in 2017, 2019, 2021 and 2022, while finishing second to Chandler Fenner in 2018. He has led the league three times in that department in his career, was twice named the West Division’s Most Outstanding Special Teams Player and the Blue Bombers top Canadian in 2019.

So, yeah, as much as the title might make the man blush, ‘GOAT’ fits. And he’s still got more to give.

“There’s a ‘want-to’ mentality to what we do on special teams,” said Miller. “I compare it to being in a fight. Things don’t always go the way you think they’re going to go, and you have to adapt on the fly and adjust to what the person in front of you is throwing at you. It’s a grit thing… I did play a lot of sports growing up and that translates to football. I’m competitive by nature and it didn’t matter what I was doing, I always wanted to beat the person in front of me and I was always, even as a kid, a little reckless so a little bit of disregard for your body helps in that type of role. I just wanted to work hard and that’s something my parents and coaches always instilled in me.

“I still really enjoy being out there and competing,” he added. “I enjoy the atmosphere of our locker room and being out there on the field. And I still feel like I’m competing at a high level and it’s still enjoyable for me that way. I don’t feel like I’m out there embarrassing myself yet. There’s a lot of factors for me continuing to play, including this is the means for me to provide for my family right now.

“I just love the game and still have fun doing it.”