For someone who takes comfort in some of the most uncomfortable situations on the football field, there’s an easy way to make Mike Miller squirm.
Just ask him to talk about himself.
Miller is the CFL all-time leader in special-teams tackles, with 210. In the last five seasons, he’s twice led the league in the category, including last season when he finished with 25 in 14 games. He has made a living using his body like a hammer, smashing into oncoming blockers and returners for a decade.
Miller confirmed he’ll be back for an 11th CFL season, inking a one-year extension with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Thursday.
So, what’s it like to be the face of special teams in the CFL, he was asked? One could almost notice Miller wince just before he answered from his home in Riverview, N.B.
"I don’t see myself as the face of special teams, at all. I mean, there’s so many different parts of the special-team game — kickers and punters, long-snappers, guys who are good at tackling and other guys that are really good at blocking," Miller said. "There’s just so many different dynamics to special teams that I can’t say that I’m the face of it. There are great returners out there that I know that definitely that’s who people would put special teams with."
Humility is just one quality that endears Miller to his coaches and teammates. The 32-year-old doesn’t play much outside of special-teams — he’s formally listed as a fullback but is limited to mainly blocking assignments on offence — but you’d be hard-pressed to find a player more universally respected.
Just as Andrew Harris, Adam Bighill and Zach Collaros are leaders in the Bombers locker room, so, too, is Miller — the kind of guy who isn’t flashy and goes about his business with a lunch-pail mentality.
He also loves his teammates and is extremely fond of Winnipeg. It’s a place he, his wife, Erica, and their two kids — son Ethan, 6, and daughter Coady, 3 — have called their football home since Miller first signed with the Bombers in 2017 following six seasons in Edmonton.
"It’s one of those rare situations where you’ve got a cohesive group, a bunch of guys in the locker room that love to be around each other and love each other and want to play for each other and want to play for the coaches and the organization and the fans and city," Miller said.
It’s an environment Miller didn’t want to leave. While he enjoyed his time in Edmonton, he knows what it’s like to be in an unstable setting. Miller said he had a different defensive co-ordinator — he was a linebacker back then — in each of his first four seasons in Edmonton.
Meanwhile, Winnipeg has been the model of stability. In his four seasons with the Bombers, the only special-teams coach he’s known is Paul Boudreau.
So, when general manager Kyle Walters expressed an interest in having him back shortly after the Bombers won their second consecutive Grey Cup last month in Hamilton, it didn’t take much consideration before putting pen to paper.
Miller is also encouraged by what he’s seen the past week, with several of his teammates also re-signing in Winnipeg for the 2022 season and the chance at a rare three-peat.
"It’s a testament to what we got going on there. Guys want to come back… guys that are part of the culture and are a driving force for continuing the culture," Miller said. "It’s huge to see all these guys signing back and can’t wait to see more. I imagine it’s lighting a fire under some of the other guys to sign back."
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.