Everyone knows the love and respect now former Steelers tight end Heath Miller, who announced his retirement on Friday after 11 seasons that included 592 receptions, 6,569 yards, 45 touchdowns and two Lombardi Trophies, had among his teammates and coaches he played with and for.
In fact, here's a quote from Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, who coached Miller for nine of his 11 seasons, after the retirement became official:
"It's been an honor and a pleasure to coach Heath, to watch him grow and evolve and perform. There are great benefits and blessings that come with being someplace as long as I have been here. It also creates unique relationships and feelings and experiences that make events such as his retirement difficult. It would be selfish of me to view it in any other way other than a great deal of admiration and appreciation for having an opportunity to work with Heath for nine of the 11 years he has done it."
That's some pretty powerful stuff, and, knowing the kind of player and person Miller was and is, it's quite sincere. Nobody involved with the Steelers organization--not his coaches, his teammates, both past and present--ever had a bad thing to see about Miller.
And, honestly, even if Miller was kind of contentious and a little diva-like in his day-to-day approach to being an NFL tight end (which he so obviously wasn't--something would have leaked out after 11 seasons), very few would have called him out on it. Like most professional sports leagues, what goes on inside an NFL locker room is generally classified information and not privy to public consumption unless it's a last resort.
OK, so Miller was universally loved and respected by his coaches and teammates, but, then again, so were players like Jerome Bettis, Aaron Smith and Troy Polamalu. What may have set Miller apart from most other Steelers players I have ever watched and followed was the universal love the fans had for him. And when I say that, I'm not just talking about the "HEEEATH!" chants that became synonymous with him whenever he caught a pass at home or on the road; I'm talking about the love fans expressed for him just by never degrading his play.
You know how fans can be, especially today with the Internet being such a huge aspect of sports fandom. Nobody is sacred, and even the likes of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady aren't immune to several dozen "He sucks!" on a daily basis. But it was hard to find any fan who ever had anything bad to say about Miller's play.
Obviously, Miller wasn't Rob Gronkowski or Greg Olsen, even on his best day, and he certainly had his flaws as a player (although, not many for what he was asked to do). But, even when he would drop a pass, fumble at a crucial time or commit a costly penalty, Miller was never the target of fan wrath-- not even people like Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Bettis, Polamalu, and even the head coach can say the same thing.
Heck, forget the Internet, where fans are more likely to call out other fans for dissing an adored player. I can't speak for anyone else, but it was rare for anyone in my circle of family, friends, co-workers, etc. to ever say anything bad about Miller during his 11-year career. In-fact, if I had a dollar for every time I heard "They should have thrown the ball to Miller more," I would be rich.
Heath Miller will never garner any consideration for the Hall of Fame, but not only did he have a statistical career to be proud of; he had the universal love of everyone--including the fans.
Now that's quite a rich and fulfilling career.