Even the television microphones pick up the deep, rumbling sound that rolls through the crowd of Heinz Field whenever Heath Miller touches the ball. The unmistakable call to their beloved hero acts as a symbol of the love the Steelers faithful share for their tight end.
Miller is in his ninth season as Ben Roethlisberger's security blanket. The former first-round pick from the University of Virginia has never eclipsed 1,000 yards or 10 touchdowns in a season, his season highs being 816 yards and eight touchdowns, both numbers he posted in 2012. Miller has, however, acted as a model of consistency for the Steelers. He has played in at least 14 games in each of his nine professional seasons, including 28 straight, good for third-most in the league for tight ends. He has caught at least 42 balls in every season except one, and he has netted at least 450 yards in every season except one. He's fourth in team history in receptions (518), receiving yardage (5,857), and touchdowns (43).
Miller's hard-nosed, team-first attitude has made him a fan favorite in Pittsburgh. His ability to make big plays has made him a favorite target of Roethlisberger. On 3rd-and-one with the game on the line against the Falcons, the Steelers opted to run a passing play to win the game rather than simply running out the clock, a move which would've carried some risk, since a failed run would have proceeded a punt, giving possession and a chance to tie the game late back to the Falcons. Ben ran a play-action fake to Le'Veon Bell, and found a wide-open Heath Miller for the game-ending completion. Miller had four catches in the game and has now recorded a catch in 102 consecutive games, a streak dating back to 2008.
With 68 receiving yards on the day, Miller has now eclipsed the 600 yard mark for the fourth time in his career, an impressive statistic considering the attention being paid to Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant in the passing game. Miller has also, as usual, been a great blocker, helping to seal the edge to create extra running lanes for Bell on his way to a Pro Bowl season.
Miller himself has won two trips to the Pro Bowl and has two Super Bowl rings, yet he's hardly mentioned in the same breath as Steelers weapons like Bell, Brown, and Bryant. He's never been considered a top tight end like Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski. The honest truth is that the full extent of Miller's abilities as a pass catcher may never be realized. From 2011-13, Jimmy Graham was targeted 149, 135, and 142 times. Miller's most targets in a single season are 101, which he turned into 71 catches, 816 yards and eight touchdowns. For comparison's sake, Graham has been targeted 100 times so far this season, catching 68 passes for 695 yards and nine touchdowns.
Miller's role in the offense is likely something he has no issues with; another reason why he's so beloved by the Pittsburgh faithful. His value isn't dependent on yards or touchdowns. The plays, cliched as it seems, that don't show up in the box score are what Miller has been known to produce. As long as Heath Miller is around, the Pittsburgh Steelers will have the definition of a true professional on their team, and they'll always have a shot to win.