The Winning Ways of Dan Miller
I first met Dan Miller during a West-Central Coaches’ Association meeting held at the Cresson American Legion. That was over thirty years ago, but his larger-than-life personality, powerful handshake and boisterous voice left a lasting impression on me ever since.
As he made his way through the roll call, Coach Miller (then the president of the organization) got to my name and called out “Potchak.” (To my surprise, he pronounced my name correctly.)
I replied with a “here.”
“Now how in the hell did a hunky find his way over the mountain and end up down there?” Miller proclaimed without the assistance of a microphone. I immediately knew I liked this guy.
Later that evening he and I recalled some old stories of when he coached football at Northern Cambria and battled the Rangers of Forest Hills (my alma mater). His memory was every bit as vivid as mine, and I enjoyed hearing his version of some game moments that had occurred in the late sixties.
During my sophomore season, the Rangers’ John Hostetler received a punt and was well on his way down the sideline for an apparent go-ahead touch down. Then a Colts player jumped onto the field from the bench and tripped the running back. Northern Cambria got a penalty, but I’m certain the score did not count, and Forest Hills took one on the chin that evening as the Colts won that game.
Coach Chuck Sponsky of Forest Hills was livid. I remember chairs flying in the locker room the following Monday as we entered the film session prior to that day’s practice. I told Dan that we players were surprised that Coach Sponsky hadn’t worn a hole in the film that afternoon. Over and over again we were forced to watch that play. Forward, then backward, then forward again, over and over again – It was similar to watching Sports Center on ESPN all day.
Dan laughed and swore he had no prior knowledge of, or control over, what that player did. Sponsky, I’m sure, disagreed.
A year later the chairs flew again in the Ranger locker room, as Coach Sponsky spotted another infraction on the Northern Cambria game film. You didn’t have to wear a number that corresponded to your position back then, and sure enough, # 67 (Corio), who played fullback the entire game, hauled in an unabated touchdown pass. It turned out to be the winning score for Northern Cambria.
The reason he was not covered? No Ranger d-backs were coached to cover the guards. Yes, guards! Wearing # 62, he snuck from the guard position on the line, into the end zone without a hitch. And none of us on our sideline knew what hit us - That is, until we saw the re-play during the film session.
Sponsky did wear a hole in the film that day. We thought he was going to pop a blood vessel and have a stroke too. And we knew that we would have to re-live this game, for another entire year.
During our reminiscing, Dan laughed, and then added, “Now that time, I did know what was going on.” He slapped me on the back, roared with laughter, and added, “The record books only say that Northern Cambria won that game – nothing else.” He was right, of course.
What I found to be particularly peculiar was that Coach Miller just admitted to slipping one by us. And even though the move was a not-so-legal one, I still found myself enjoying his company. I truly liked this guy.
He also acknowledged that he knew he was in trouble the following season. The Colts had a good team, but he was aware that the Rangers would be playing high on emotion, and parting Sidman with a win would be a tough task.
Again, he was right, as Forest Hills beat Northern Cambria in the fall of 1969 in a high-scoring contest (46-34). Coach Sponsky described his defense to a fan that night after the game as a “sieve.” A few fights broke out during the game too, and at one time the officials contemplated calling the game.
During that evening of recalling memories, the look in Dan’s eyes told a story. This man loved sports, loved others and loved to have fun. His winning approach to athletics was only matched by his winning approach to people and to life in general. If you didn’t know Dan Miller, you truly missed out on knowing one of the area’s finest gentlemen and greatest personalities.
We admire many people in our lifetime for the way they lived, for their pleasing character or for their winning attitude. Dan was that kind of man. But he was also regarded highly in the manner in which he departed, too. He left this world offering one last unique gift.
Following his passing, a story in a Johnstown newspaper revealed that following Dan’s viewing, patrons were welcome to an imbibing establishment in town. It was reported that Dan wanted it that way. That “invitation” to mourners should come as no surprise to those that knew him – He left life the way he lived it, having fun with others.
Yes, Dan Miller was a winner during his life, and after his death too. May all of us be so fortunate. And may each of us be blessed with as many friends - left behind to mourn and to celebrate.