Getting To Know: QB Miller

Romaro Miller thought he had the third-string quarterback position wrapped up at the end of training camp, only to be informed five days later (Sept. 2) that the Vikings had traded for Spergon Wynn and Miller was a casualty of the numbers game. On Dec. 18, Miller was given new NFL life amid a slew of QB injuries and hopes to turn that into good fortune in 2002.

It was an investment that appeared to be a bust.

Spending more than a month of grueling work — mentally and physically — at training camp in Mankato, Romaro Miller appeared to have claimed the No. 3 quarterback job over Billy Cockerham. Daunte Culpepper was a lock as the starter, Todd Bouman a lock at backup. Now, it seemed, with about a week before the season was to start, Miller was the Minnesota Vikings' third-string quarterback.

Five days later, it appeared to be time not well spent.

The Vikings traded for running back Travis Prentice and quarterback Spergon Wynn. What seemed like mere moments after getting anointed the No. 3 QB, Miller was flying back home to the southeast. With the same speed and success of Enron, Miller plummeted from being a member of an NFL team to a waived player, looking for a job and a purpose.

Miller stayed with his cousin in Atlanta and landed a couple of jobs to pay the bills. He worked at a concrete warehouse Monday through Friday and at an athletic club on the weekends. Within a week, he went from sharing a locker room with some of the world's greatest professional athletes to sharing a locker room with adult recreation enthusiasts who pay their 50-buck-a-month fees simply so they can burn off excess calories from the previous weekend.

Miller didn't know what bothered him worse. That, or his Monday-Friday job, an occupation of labor he couldn't see himself doing tomorrow, much less next week or next year.

"I've been working in the real world, that's why I'm hungry," Miller said. "One day I was riding around in a truck and I had had enough. I called my agent and said, ‘Man, I can't do this. I have to get back in the NFL.' He told me to be patient."

Patience, though, was a difficult request. Working seven days a week, doing menial tasks he never imagined he'd be doing, Miller, who thought he proved himself enough to stay on the Vikings' roster last September, grew increasingly frustrated.

"When it got to be nine or 10 weeks away from the NFL it was like, there's still other quarterbacks out there," Miller said. "There was no way I was going to get called up. As time went on, I was getting in the mindset that hopefully I'll get the opportunity to go to (NFL) Europe and play and get some experience.

"I've been without football for the last couple of months. Being away from football, you realize how much you miss it. I know I couldn't go back there and hurt myself — it would only help. So I just kept waiting for my opportunity."

Miller has grown accustomed to waiting for his opportunity. In fact, that appears to be a common theme with professional athletes. Practically every pro football player had to wait his turn somewhere along the progressive ladder between Pop Warner and the NFL. In Miller's case, it started early.

"In Mississippi, you can only start playing in seventh grade. They didn't have Pop Warner," Miller said. "I had to sit around and wait until seventh grade. So we played games in the back yard. I was a soft guy. I didn't want to get hit. Anytime we played, I'd be a receiver or a quarterback. If I was a receiver I'd run one route — I'd go deep so I wouldn't get hit."

Miller never enjoyed the "tackle" part of tackle football. So he always opted for quarterback.

Except for that first day of seventh-grade football.

"I was bigger than all the guys," Miller explained. "The first day we went to practice, the coach was going to put me on the offensive line. I was one of the quieter guys, so I would've never questioned the coach. I was going to start playing there. Some other players told the coach to put me at quarterback, because I had the best arm in elementary school. So he put me at quarterback.

"If I would've played offensive line, that would've been crazy. If it weren't for some of the other guys around me, there's no telling where I'd be right now."

Even if it was blind luck, Miller's seventh-grade coach was responsible for starting Miller's illustrious amateur quarterback career. There was never an issue again regarding where Miller would play.

By his ninth-grade season, Miller was the high school varsity team's starting quarterback. The team had traditionally lived and died by running the option. But in Miller's sophomore season, Shannon (Miss.) High School coach Mike Scott saw something special.

What he saw was a quarterback with an arm not normally seen in high school ranks. "In my sophomore year, we went away from everything (Scott) had ever done and went with four wides. We struggled and went 6-5," Miller said. "But in my junior and senior years we really took off. We went for a ton of yards and we won a lot of football games."

By the end of his senior year Miller was regarded as one of the best high school quarterbacks in the nation. He was named the 1996 Mississippi player of the year. Scouting services ranked him as high as the fourth-best quarterback prospect in the nation. In his Shannon H.S. career, Miller had thrown for more than 9,000 yards, 89 touchdowns and ran for another 38 touchdowns to set a state record with 127 total touchdowns.

So what happened months later in his senior year of high school? The Milwaukee Brewers called Miller.

That's right. Miller, also an excellent middle infielder, was drafted by the major league baseball Brewers.

"To this day, baseball is still my first love," Miller said. "If I wouldn't have played basketball my senior year and instead focused all winter on baseball, I could've helped myself up a couple of rounds. But I really didn't consider signing with the Brewers. At the time, I had (committed to play college football) for Ole Miss and it wasn't really anything I thought about. There was so much stuff going on, as far as college and recruiting, it would have been too hard to stay focused on baseball."

Miller's passing success didn't end at Shannon High. It continued at Mississippi. By the time his career was completed at Ole Miss, Miller ranked first in the school's history in passing yards (6,311), touchdown passes (43), 200-yard passing games (18) and 300-yard passing games (eight).

His bowl experiences were endless. As a freshman, Ole Miss won the Motor City Bowl by defeating Marshall, who had some receiver named Moss and a running back named Chapman. As a sophomore, Ole Miss beat Texas Tech in the Independence Bowl. As a junior, Ole Miss beat Oklahoma at the Independence Bowl again. Miller suffered his first loss in a bowl when he was a senior, when Ole Miss lost to West Virginia in the Music City Bowl.

"I had a great time at Ole Miss," Miller said.

Not only did he have a great time, he greatly improved his value in the market known as the NFL.

"I'm a very realistic person," Miller said. "I'm not one to think I was going to be a first-round or second-round pick. I thought I'd be sixth or seventh or even a free agent."

The Pittsburgh Steelers tried to contact Miller moments after the draft concluded, with hopes of singing him as a free agent. But because Miller went home for the weekend, he didn't get the Steelers' message until two days later, since they were calling his college apartment. By then Vikings quarterbacks coach Alex Wood, who saw Miller at the predraft combine in Indianapolis, had already called Miller and invited him to chat with the Vikings.

"They brought me up here and the rest is history," Miller said.

But it wasn't all a storied history. Miller had only been in training camp about five weeks before he was issued his release.

"Talking about ripping your heart out," Miller said. "I came here to compete for the No. 3 spot and I won that with two weeks left in camp. The next day they make a trade (for Wynn) and cut me on the spot. That taught me a lesson about the NFL.

"But it made me a better person. It's made me better and stronger. The time off made me hungry." VU

CURRENT VEHICLE: Ford Expedition
HOBBIES: Being outside, hunting rabbits and deer
TOUGHEST PLAYER EVER FACED: Kendrell Bell, Steelers linebacker (with Georgia, played against Miller in college)
FAVORITE TV SHOW: Bernie Mack Show
FAVORITE MOVIE: Remember the Titans
FAVORITE ACTOR: All the pretty women in the movies
FIRST JOB: Worked at convenience store as a 17-year old
BEST CHILDHOOD MEMORY: Playing little league baseball

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