Heath Miller announced his retirement last week after spending his entire 11-year NFL career as a Pittsburgh Steeler. Miller was the team's 30th overall pick in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft, a selection that would make Miller part of a Super Bowl champion team in his rookie season.
His 11 years with the Pittsburgh Steelers allowed him to work with one of the best quarterbacks in the game in Ben Roethlisberger. His work ethic and team-first attitude embodied the mentality that describes the most old-school of Steelers who are fondly remembered as legends by the fans. But his play on the field was another reason Steelers fans loved number 83.
This edition of "Throwback Thursday" pays tribute to a classic Steeler and some of his plays on the field that exemplified how good of a player he was over the years. While his play in the 2006 AFC divisional playoff matchup against the Indianapolis Colts was legendary, and his longest touchdown ever came the following year when he went for 87 yards off a pass from Charlie Batch in the season opener against the Miami Dolphins, film on pre-2009 NFL games is limited on the internet, so we had to do our best with what we had available to us. Still, there's plenty of great moments to choose from.
2015 catch vs. Chargers
This is one of those classic Heath Miller catches when he went up to get the ball in a key situation and held on to the pass despite receiving a vicious hit from a second defender. It comes from this season and we have reviewed it before, but it's a perfect example of why so many people knew to scream "HEAAAAATH" over the years. His tough play and the ability to rise in key situations made him a great role player for the Steelers for many seasons. Without his play here on the pass from Michael Vick, the Steelers might not make the playoffs.
Touchdown vs. Ravens 2012
The Steelers' playoff hopes hung by a thread when they visited the Baltimore Ravens late in the 2012 season. Ben Roethlisberger was out for an injury and the team would have to rely on a backup quarterback against Baltimore for a second time in a span of three weeks. Charlie Batch was showing a tough effort against the Ravens who would eventually win the Super Bowl this season, but in a key situation he went to Heath Miller for a red zone touchdown to tie the game halfway into the fourth quarter. Miller's catch and extension to perfectly touch the ball on the pylon is one of the best non-Roethlisberger moments in the rivalry's history.
Big catch in Super Bowl 43
Nobody could ever question the effort which Miller brought to the game when he stepped on the gridiron. This play was a perfect example of both his effort and his rapport with Ben Roethlisberger over the years. On an early third down in Super Bowl 43, Roethlisberger had to buy time to find an open receiver after a botched play. Miller's assignment here is for him to aid Ben in pass protection as he engages the blitzing defensive back by taking him well out of the play 10 yards behind the line.
But Miller doesn't quit on the play or try to come back to block another person; he immediately realizes Ben is in trouble and sprints to the first down marker to give his quarterback a target for the first down. In pure old-school Roethlisberger fashion, Ben shakes off a defender, turns and fires a bullet to Heath, who goes up to snag the catch, take a hit and keep a drive alive that would eventually lead to a touchdown. This play is often what I think of when I think of Heath Miller's big plays over the years. When it happened live, I just thought Roethlisberger made a spectacular play in finding Miller, but after the game in the 104,203,657.5 times I have watched it, I noticed just all of what Heath had to do on this play.
We'll miss you Heath.
Seeing Heath's retirement last week was a bit of a shocker to me. He was a favorite Steeler for many fans and always came off as a great player in my eyes. He was never the prototypical super receiving tight end that seems to get glorified more in today's NFL; instead he was a tough receiver and an excellent blocker in the ground and passing game. This made him a perfect fit for Pittsburgh for 11 years and a legend of the franchise. He will go down as one of the many players who was not talked about enough during his career, and probably will be overlooked by non-Steeler fans now that his career is over.
Over the past decade, anytime a big tight end caught a pass for Pittsburgh, Steelers fans screamed his name. Not just while we were in Heinz Field, but all over the country. The "Heath" chant became almost synonymous with the Terrible Towel if you encountered a Pittsburgh fan during games, no matter where you were.
I encountered this personally when I went to Arizona back in 2011 to see the Steelers take on the Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Fortunately I was able to capture a Heath moment on film.
When the Steelers have their home season opener in 2016, I fully expect a fan tribute to the recent retiree by the way of Heath chants all game. Who knows, Jesse James may have that chant follow him for a while should he become the Steelers' next playmaker at the tight end position. While that may sound annoying for a young player like James to not have his own chant, it would also be fitting for a classic way for Steelers fans to honor Miller's career and the many good times he brought to Steeler nation.