- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
The wire service report was short and impersonal:
Milwaukee, Dec. 17 (AP)—Frederick C. Miller, prominent brewer and sportsman, died tonight after a plane crash. His son, Frederick C. Miller, Jr., and the pilot and co-pilot were killed in the crash. Mr. Miller was captain of the 1928 University of Notre Dame football team and president of the Miller Brewing Company here.
For Notre Dame fans, for Milwaukeeans, for anyone who had ever known him, it was hard to accept the fact that Fred Miller was dead. This was the Fred Miller who was called "Notre Dame's No. 1 fan," who had done so much to bring the Boston Braves to Milwaukee, who had sparked the tremendous growth of the Miller Brewing Company after World War II. He had always been a very lucky man.
With a wealthy lumberman as father and a brewery heiress as mother, he was born with a pair of silver spoons in his mouth. He grew up to be big, handsome, muscular and intelligent. As an acquaintance once put it, "If there is anything a man could want that Fred Miller hasn't got, he can buy it."
Miller, who was 48 when he died, had been a Notre Dame enthusiast since his prep school days, when he, like a lot of other promising athletes, was taken there for a look at the campus. He met Knute Rockne and was so impressed that he decided he would rather be a scrub at Notre Dame, if necessary, than a star anywhere else. On the Notre Dame freshman squad he started out as a fullback, but Rockne switched him to tackle. He went on to become captain of the team and All-American in his senior year.
He was only an average alumni enthusiast until 1946 when Head Coach Frank Leahy, who had been his understudy at left tackle, returned to Notre Dame from Naval service. Miller flew down one fine day to watch practice.
As Leahy tells it, "He looked as if he hadn't gained a pound since graduation. I said, 'Freddie, you look in such wonderful shape that you ought to be out here helping us.' " Within a matter of minutes Miller had put on a uniform and was indeed out there helping. After that he flew to South Bend to work with the linemen three afternoons a week, winding up on Friday and staying over for the game on Saturday.
One thing that all practicing coaches know is that football changes so rapidly that yesterday's Einstein is today's ignoramus. Miller, had he been less discerning, might easily have become a nuisance to the Notre Dame squad. In his 18 years away from football, the game had changed considerably. Fortunately, Miller realized this and tried hard and humbly to catch up with modern methods. As Leahy has said, "When I was explaining a play, Freddie was always the most attentive man in the room."
A CAPACITY FOR LOYALTY
But his real value came in other ways. Miller soon became psychological and spiritual adviser to the players, especially those who were discouraged or homesick. According to Leahy, "He had a tremendous capacity for loyalty; he idolized the very soil that Notre Dame rests on. That amazing loyalty just oozed out of him and into the players. I could feel it myself. He always seemed to give me a little added strength, a little extra feeling of confidence." He also served, on the hectic weekends when the old grads descended, as Leahy's personal public relations man and social secretary. And during games he walked up and down the sidelines with Leahy, patiently recording in a notebook every observation that Leahy made on the play. Between halves he read back his notes—as possibly the world's richest stenographer—while Leahy expanded on them for the benefit of the players.