Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Blue a gong show, Miller a go-getter

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Before I get to what I wanted to write about, I have this to say about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers naming Max Hall the starter exactly one game after Tim Burke said Justin Goltz would be the guy going forward.

This is why you don't make absolute statements in pro football, or in life in general for that matter.

I don't care about regime changes, I don't care if Burke's fingers were crossed, and I don't care if Hall ends up being the next Brett Favre. Things change all the time in this game and in life, and if you don't modify your language to reflect that, you don't know what you are doing.

Otherwise, when things happen, and circumstances force you to change your mind, you look foolish -- let alone the message that this sort of flip-flopping sends to your players.

Now back to our regularly-scheduled programming.

The very first day I arrived in Winnipeg in 2001, head coach Dave Ritchie drove me over to the lunch room to meet some of my new teammates, one of whom happened to be Wade Miller. I was only there for an hour at most, but somehow, by the time I stood up to go to my first meeting, I had already promised Miller I would get the equipment manager from my old team to send him a new pair of turf shoes. As a new player, I was hoping to make a good first impression with my teammates, and Miller read that like a picture book and turned it into a free pair of $150 kicks.

Fast forward to 2013, and things haven't changed that much.

He had a hot tub delivered to his house this winter, but they left it on his driveway. Thirteen years later, once again, I somehow found myself doing him a favour, only this time I was at his new place with a dozen other bewildered schmucks, trying to lift a hot tub, all the while wondering what the hell we were doing there.

Wade has always had a knack and talent for getting things done, and for surrounding himself with the right people to help him along the way -- sometimes whether they wanted to or not, or even realized what they were getting themselves into.

I'll be the first to admit that I never thought Miller would be CEO of this football team. But then again, I also never thought he would make the football team in any of the five years we played together in Winnipeg. He wasn't very athletic, he wasn't very fast, and he wasn't very big, but somehow he still beat out younger players year after year that were brought in to replace him.

I ended up learning that he knew more about the game and its intricacies than his competitors did. He didn't make the same mental mistakes they would under pressure, either. He never backed down from anything or anyone on the field, no matter how many times he might have gotten dumped on his head. He was always willing to stick his nose in places where his rivals wouldn't or couldn't, and no player at his position ever outworked him.

It was never pretty. I always likened the subtlety and suave of Miller to that of a beached hammerhead shark, but he always got the job done, and you wouldn't want to get in his way. He might have had to kick, claw, and scratch his way to get there, but he always ended up where he wanted to be.

From the beginning, I knew he was an aspiring entrepreneur, but I didn't imagine there was much chance that would work out too well either. Though he was obviously shrewd and driven, he wasn't splitting atoms in his free time, and he didn't make a lot of money playing football.

Yet every day, before practice and after practice, he worked at his other interests and on his ideas, with his business partners. He used to joke that football practice was merely his extended lunch break where he took time out of his day to do something fun.

Before I knew it, shortly after he retired from a football career that shouldn't have been as long as it was, he was named a Top 40 under-40 entrepreneur in Canada.

Miller has always been the underdog, and he has always been an overachiever. There had to have been times where all he had with him at the table were guts, determination, and perseverance, but that was all he needed in many instances to get the job done.

While memories of watching the new CEO of the Blue Bombers perform a little, Gangnam Style, in Winnipeg's version of Dancing With Celebrities, still give me nightmares, you know when Wade commits to something he will kill himself trying to make it happen. It may not be pretty, but I know of maltreated mules with fewer stubborn tendencies.

If he can pull this one off, and turn this franchise around for the better, I just might start giving him the benefit of the doubt from now on.

Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays and the days following game days in the Free Press.

Twitter: @DougBrown97

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 13, 2013 C3

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