Legendary sportscaster Van Miller dies at 87

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — A Buffalo sportscasting legend has made his final call. Van Miller, 87, died peacefully on Friday evening.

Born in Dunkirk, Miller began his broadcasting career in 1955 as a summer replacement on WBEN radio and television calling high school sports. He became the Voice of the Bills during the team’s inaugural season in 1960. In addition to broadcasting Bills games, he called games for the NBA’s Buffalo Braves from 1971 to 1977.  He also served as the sports director for WIVB-TV and was a weather reporter and a game show host.

Van considered it a great honor and great thrill to be the Voice of the Buffalo Bills for 37 years. His greatest gift was his ability to pass that thrill on to the fans.

Broadcasting was in his blood. “I’ve been doing it since I was in second grade,” he once reflected.  “I used to talk into a hose and funnel on my back porch.”

He tapped into Bills fever in Buffalo, coining such phrases from the booth as “Fan-daemonium!” “Fasten Your Seatbelts!” “Can You Believe It!”

“You have to paint a word picture,” he said. “The team is driving. You build to a crescendo.”

The current Voice of the Bills, John Murphy, said of Van, “I think that his energy level and his enthusiasm are what set him apart from virtually everybody else.”

“That’s what makes a great announcer,” said Paul Peck, a former News 4 Buffalo sports anchor. “He was always trying to make you feel like you were in that stadium. Even if you’re driving down the Thruway at the time.”PHOTO GALLERY | Van Miller and his passion – sportscasting

Bills Hall of Fame Quarterback Jim Kelly once said, “He gave us the times that stick in our heart. He had something about him that always made you smile.”

No Bills player could match wits with Van.

Once, Bills great Andre Reed egged him on by mimicking the calls he gave during the incredible victory over the Houston Oilers.

Former Bills quarterback Frank Reich witnessed Van’s comeback lines.

“It was like a switch went off in Van and he started making all the calls again. But this was the best part; e started ad-libbing! He goes, ‘And Reed makes the catch and he fumbles at the goal line’ and Andre’s going, ‘I never fumbled at the goal line!'”

The late Bills owner Ralph Wilson called Van “a great guy.” The two had a great relationship.

Van became the first local play-by-play announcer to be honored by the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004.

Never short on quips, this is what he said while accepting the honor, “And now I’m in the class with guys like Don Criqui, and Frank Gifford, who’s here tonight. And John Madden. Madden got ten minutes and a Rolex.  I got two minutes and a Timex!”

The line brought the house down with laughter.

John Murphy said Saturday, “I’ll miss his sense of humor because he was always funny and always upbeat and always eager to trade stories and to say something funny and to get you laughing.”

In October of 2014, Van Was inducted onto the Buffalo Bills’ Wall of Fame.

The four straight Bills Superbowls were exhilarating for Van.

“He was bouncing off the walls,” recalls Paul Peck. “He was so excited.”

Peck recalls a scene he’ll never forget. “Him dancing in front of the hotel. One of those early days in the week, with a Bills fan. I don’t even remember who it was. But he was so excited to be there. It was a dream come true for him to call a Superbowl. But even more than that, he understood how much it meant to the people of this town.”

Bills fans remember the tense few seconds before the team’s heartbreaking 20 to 19 loss to the Giants in 1991.

Van’s call from the booth as Scott Norwood prepared to kick a final field goal: “He can fire the shot heard round the world now.  On the way.  It is long enough, and it is no good!  He missed it to the right!”

Keeping his perspective, Van would later say “It’s only a game. And that’s all it is. It’s big men playing a game.”LEAVE YOUR MEMORY | Visit the News 4 Facebook page to leave your favorite memory of Miller

Van retired from Channel 4 as Sports Anchor in 1998 after a legendary 43 year career.

He used to say, “I was a young kid from Dunkirk who started out as a summer replacement announcer for a hundred bucks a week.”

During the last minutes of his final appearance on News 4, he took one last good-natured shot at Chief Meteorologist Don Paul, who he was always accusing of stealing his time for his sports segment.

“My wife is not here tonight because of you, Don. You know why? Because you scared her so much with the tornado, she won’t come out of the basement!”

Some of Van’s old Channel 4 family visited him a week before his passing. He was very frail.

News 4 anchor Jacquie Walker recalls, “He was not able to speak during the visit. You could tell that he really wanted to, but as we were leaving, we were at the door, he raised his hand. We all turned around and looked at him, and Van said one word: And that world was ‘Fandaemonium. That’s the last word I heard Van say, and I think it means he was really thinking of the fans.”

News 4 Senior Correspondent Rich Newberg had the honor conducting the last major television interview with Van Miller after Ralph Wilson’s death in March of 2014.

When asked to sum-up his career Van said, “Well that was a great ride, you know. I mean I felt like the luckiest man in the world.”

That’s how those who worked with Van feel about time spent with the broadcast legend; it was “Van-daemonium,” any time you were in his company.

Buffalo BIlls President Russ Brandon issued the following statement on Saturday afternoon:“On behalf of Terry and Kim Pegula and everyone at One Bills Drive, we are all deeply saddened with the news of the passing of Van Miller. As the ‘Voice of the Bills,’ Van’s historic radio calls of Bills games over the years will forever resonate with our fans. His Hall of Fame and Wall of Fame talent was overshadowed only by his engaging personality, his witty sense of humor and his love for the Bills. We will all dearly miss ‘Uncle Van,’ but his legacy will remain deeply embedded in our franchise’s history and in the hearts of his countless fans in Western New York and throughout the NFL community. Our deepest sympathies, along with our thoughts and prayers, go out to his wife Gloria and all of Van’s family during this difficult time.”

Van Miller is survived by his by his wife of 62-years, Gloria, his daughter Cathy, a son Van, and three grandchildren. A private service for the family is being planned.

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