The memory of the play is unquestionably firmly embedded into Zach Miller’s mind.
You can telegram it frame by frame.
A hostile road environment with a raucous crowd in New Orleans. A tense fourth quarter for a young Bears team learning how to win with the most strenuous of tests. Then, an over-the-top beautiful rainbow from Mitchell Trubisky into the end zone. The veteran Miller uncannily coming down with a perfect catch on a perfect pass in tight coverage, the way he always did. The way he’s always made light of any situation on and off the football field.
Until, seemingly, he wasn’t able to make any light anymore.
Today, the Bears will honor Miller with their prestigious Ed Block Courage Award. They’ll be acknowledging the tremendous resolve he’s shown since he dislocated his knee, tore a popliteal artery, and nearly lost his life on a fateful late October Sunday afternoon. Miller’s always been a face with a glowing smile. A man with an impeccable positive attitude who rubs off on everyone he comes into contact with. From family and friends, to teammates and coaches, it’s rare there’s anyone with anything negative to say of Miller’s influence and presence in their respective lives.
In most instances, people like Miller only become more appreciated for their uncommon willing attitude. For their initiative to stay active and helpful in every endeavor the people in their lives partake in.
By this qualifier, an award with described commitments to sportsmanship, courage, professionalism, and locker room inspirations, could technically be won by Miller every year. An award that views its recipients as the highest order community role models is a layup as to the continued efforts of Miller. It’s ironic to consider now, but since almost losing his life, Miller’s somehow been that much more of a mentor and shoulder to lean on for everyone. He’s been a valuable player coach of sorts for the Bears, and a consistently active member in Chicagoland communities away from football activity. He hasn’t let his situation dictate the power he can have on others’ careers and lives, and he’s never shown signs to the contrary.
Sometimes the most difficult and unpredictable circumstances bring you down into a pit of despair. Sometimes, in the exemplary case of Miller, you shrug them off, strive for better in every avenue of your life, and make light despite everyone telling you it’s time to rest.
It’s okay to give in. It’s fine to relax. Not for Miller. Sitting down has never been who Miller is — one to dwell on the past and feel sorry for himself — and it never will be.
The Ed Block Courage Award is in its 39th year of distribution. It started with a noble emphasis on preventing child abuse and has evolved into something far more beautiful and impactful. Every NFL team that participates in the program selects one of 23 Courage Houses — places that support those who have been neglected and abused — and offers a helping hand. The Bears’ most recent face on this front was 2017 winner Kyle Long, who passes on the mantle to a worthy successor in Miller.
By now, Miller’s life has irreversibly changed ever since that fateful moment in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome over 17 months ago. A moment where he indeed made a catch by typical backyard football rules, but the intricacies of a nonsensical NFL catch rule betrayed him. Many people would’ve gave in at the prospect of rebuilding one’s life after such a harrowing personal event. They would’ve mockingly laughed at any idea of redeeming positivity in such dire straits.
But not Miller. That’s never been Miller, and it won’t be him now.
It might be wishful thinking, but the 34-year-old Miller still hasn’t officially given up on playing professional football again. Though he hasn’t ran since October 2017, steadfast dedication to his rehabilitation has gone well enough for the veteran to refuse to give up hope. He’s already won the mental battle in his recovery. That much is evident. It may only be a matter of time before Miller ramps it up a notch physically as soon as he gets cleared. An unthinkable development that’s only unthinkable if you don’t understand Miller.
You see, that moment in New Orleans is embedded in Miller’s mind not as a traumatic experience to relive over and over his head to the point of painful, mental exhaustion. But as a humbling reminder to recalibrate his life.
Whatever the future holds for Miller, he’ll undoubtedly continue to beam his pearly whites and make light. The way he always has.
Robert is the Editor-in-chief of The Blitz Network (subscribe here!), the managing editor of Windy City Gridiron, and writes for a host of other fine publications. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.