The Pittsburgh Steelers and the team’s extended fan base received a bit of a shock earlier today when it was announced that 11-year veteran tight end Heath Miller has chosen to retire with one year remaining on his contract.
Miller, the team’s first-round draft pick in 2005, went on to play 168 games, recording nearly 600 receptions for over 6500 yards and 45 touchdowns, fumbling only seven times during those years. And for as good as a pass catcher he was, he was an even better blocker, among seemingly the last of a dying breed: the two-way tight end.
As difficult as his presence and production will be difficult to replicate or replace on the field, the Steelers will also struggle to fill the void that he will leave in the locker room. While Miller was never one for chatter and making himself part of the story, his stoic work ethic was a touchstone for the Steelers over the years, embodying the values that they aspired to uphold themselves.
The 33-year-old tight end was not the sort of vocal leader that would fire his teammates up before a game with thunderous talk of dominance, but in the times that he did speak up, those around him would listen, because they understood that it would be something of value, and that there was something that they should take away.
Miller was the quiet sort of leader who set the example for others to follow. He may be the only professional athlete of this generation to never say a truly disparaging remark about somebody else, such was his nature. Sure, he occasionally engaged in some of the team’s rivalries with the Ravens or Bengals in a good-natured way, but you understood the place that he was coming from.
Most importantly, the veteran tight end was emblematic of the sort of work ethic and teamsmanship that hearkens back to a prior age, where the good ones simply put their head down and went about their work, sacrificing part of themselves for the good of the team when it became necessary.
In a way, Miller was a focal point of the moral compass of the locker room, helping to keep a room full of disparate personalities crossing lines of culture, background, and age, grounded in reality. He was the sort of teammate that treated the undrafted rookies—likely even the janitors—the same way he treated the veterans and the coaching staff.
As much as he has meant to the Steelers’ offense over the course of the past 11 years—and it is undoubtedly significantly more than many realize, particularly those who simply look at the statistics—he has meant that and more to the Steelers as an organization, and you can get a glimpse of that from the outpouring of genuine love that he has received from all ranks of the team.
In an era when the flame of the last championship is flickering, and those who were last involved are hanging up their pads; in an offseason in which one of the locker room’s other key fixtures, Ramon Foster, may be parting from Pittsburgh; Miller’s absence will be measurably felt.