Dan Miller was every Detroit Lions fan in his viral call in Chicago: ‘My passion is their passion’

Detroit Free Press

Dan Miller, the Detroit Lions’ radio play-by-play man, has witnessed a lot of losing during his 18 years broadcasting the team’s games. You might feel sorry for him if he didn’t love his job so much. And he does.

Because he loves football, of course. Because he loves the region, too.

“I thought I’d be here two years and be on my way,” he said.

But mostly because he loves moments like what happened Sunday in Chicago, when the Lions sacked Bears quarterback Justin Fields to seal the win and complete the kind of comeback they hadn’t pulled off in nearly 30 years.

Miller’s description of the 10-second-long play went viral. Partly because he’d captured a bit of history in a rare comeback. Mostly because a Lions win isn’t simply a win, not that any win in the NFL is simple.

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For Lions fans Miller believes, everything that had come before that fourth-down snap is part of the moment:

“Every game that’s been there for the taking that they haven’t won. Every moment that’s broken your heart. It’s part of a broader conversation as to whether this team can change. All those things are in your mind. Then you finally get your answer as they snap the ball.”

And so, Miller, who is also the sports director at Channel 2, set the stage with all that history in mind.

“Here we go boys let’s get off this field,” he began, “A minute and twelve to go. Fourth-and-8 Chicago from their own 32. Lions lead it by one (31-30).”

A pause. And then:

“There’s the shotgun snap to Fields. He’s back. He’s looking. Fields pressured. FIELDS HIT FROM BEHIND! HE’S GOING DOWN! No, he stayed up! No, he’s going down! GET. HIM. DOWN. Get him down! SACKED! Three tries. Third time was the charm. Julian Okwara finally took him down. In your life have you seen anything like this kid?”

Another pause.

“He stayed up. He stayed up. Then they took him down. And the Lions with 59 seconds to go can put a nail in this game right here. Victory formation. (Jared) Goff to a knee. That’s it. Game over. Plane’s waiting boys, time to go back to Detroit with your second consecutive victory.”

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Miller was standing as he made the call. He wore a knit cap under his headphones and a pair of binoculars around his neck. He leaned over and placed his palms on the table to start and he stood back up as his voice raised and when he finally yelled “GET. HIM. DOWN,” he was gesturing with his hands, punctuating his forefinger toward the ground with each syllable.

For the rest of the night and for much of the last several days, Miller’s phone blew up with texts and calls. Social media lit up, too.

“They would tell me I was screaming on-air the same thing they were screaming at their televisions,” he said.

In 10 seconds – Miller counted them later – the Lions had found a way to make the kind of winning play that’s mostly eluded them, and the play-by-play man captured the angst, relief and joy in his descriptions.

He is a fan, too. In fact, he is a conduit for their emotion and when he is calling a game and the outcome hangs in the balance it is the fans’ passion that he is channeling. Like them, he wants the Lions to win.

“Every game is an event, a seven-day build up,” said Miller. “I’m out there Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, then traveling on Saturday, sitting down with coach three times, (Goff) once, with other players. I do content for radio and the TV side. I think that’s where you get to know them as people. You are around the building that much. Everybody from the security guard to the cooks in the kitchen, from sales folks to media relations to marketing, you begin to understand how much it means to them. They are part of this. It’s contagious. You see the impact on them. All these people you’ve gotten to know, their families, you latch on and take a ride with. It’s the same with fans. That’s what brings so much out in me. Wanting to see people happy. Winning is the thing that does that.”

Winning, he argues, is ultimately validation. And despite the losing and the strong likelihood that the Lions won’t make the playoffs, it still matters.

A lot.

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You could hear that in Miller’s voice Sunday, shoot, every Sunday. But especially this past Sunday. As he said, the Lions don’t just win games. They get out from under all that heavy history … at least for a week.

“Nobody forgets the record,” said Miller.

Fans understand what’s going on, just as the players and coaches do. But in the moment? After trailing by 14 in the fourth quarter? With a chance to get a road win against a division rival?

“The difference between winning and losing, I can’t even describe,” said Miller.

But he tries. And fans love him for it. Because he is them for three hours every Sunday, and he is them when he’s bending over and leaping up and gesturing and celebrating and slapping his palms on the table.

“My passion is their passion,” he said. “The highs and lows that I reflect during a game are the same highs and lows that they feel. They (can) hear that in my voice.”

Miller hasn’t had many chances to pass along the highs. He did Sunday, in one the most memorable calls of his career.

“That’s why we do what we do,” he said.

And that’s why we listen.

Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or swindsor@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.

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