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August 21, 2013

Dream job: A conversation with Detroit Lions broadcaster Dan Miller

By Mark Vest
C & G Sports Writer

Dan Miller

In this last installment of a four-week series of interviews with broadcasters from all four of the professional sports teams in the area, Dan Miller, the Detroit Lions’ play-by-play voice for WXYT-FM 97.1 The Ticket, as well as a Sports Director at Fox 2 Detroit, discusses topics such as what he likes to do for fun on road trips, his favorite cities to visit and his assessment of the Lions’ chances next season.

When did you know you wanted to get into play-by-play work?
I think going to games when I was younger, I always knew I wanted to do something — going to games with my dad, listening to games on the radio, and watching games on TV, which weren’t as plentiful as they are now. I love the atmosphere; I love being around it. When I got older and got into the business, you’re kind of climbing the ladder. I would always watch the play-by-play guys go by, go into the booth, and I would just think, ‘Man, I (want to) be that guy. I (want to) be one of those guys that gets to sit in there — call the game.’ I’ve been blessed enough to end up doing that.

Would you call it a dream job?
Oh yeah, no question. Professionally, I’m living a dream. I love sports; I have always loved sports. I’m paid to watch games and talk about games. If I was selling cars, phones or whatever, I’d still be watching games and talking about games. Still, I think sometimes you have to pinch yourself a little bit — it’s a pretty incredible thing to be able to do.

Where did you grow up?
Grew up in Washington, D.C., area. I was born in D.C., lived in Maryland (until) I was 8, and moved to Virginia after that. I lived there until I came here in 1997.

Which college did you attend?
George Mason University.

Have you ever thought about what you might be doing if you didn’t get into the broadcast business?
I have no idea. I’ve been in this business since I was 18 years old. I’ve never really been faced with having to try to figure out what I (want to) do when I grow up. I hope I never do. I know I work for a living, but hard-pressed to believe I have a real job. I love what I do. It’s all I ever wanted to do and never had to think of an alternative. If I can skate through this thing all the way through retirement without having to figure something out, I’ll be one happy guy.

When you are on the road, what are some of the things you like to do for fun?
We got a great crew of guys that travel with us week to week with the Lions. From the guys that do the pre-game show with us, Wojo (Bob Wojnowski), Jennifer (Hammond), all the folks from our Fox 2 crew, and then the radio guys — Brandy (broadcast partner Jim Brandstatter) and all them. You figure out where you’re going out to eat on Saturday night — you go out and have a nice meal. Probably 15 years ago, I would have (said) I like to eat and then go party or something. But now with four kids, the lure of a quiet hotel room’s pretty good, so you eat, go back, get some sleep and you begin to really appreciate a Saturday night in a quiet hotel room, flipping on the TV and watching all the college football you possibly can. You’re there for business, but it’s also a great time — get to travel with good friends and have good times on the road, as well.

What’s your favorite city to visit? What’s your favorite field to visit?
I would say the new Cowboy Stadium’s (AT&T Stadium) unbelievable. It’s so massive and that 60-yard screen is so incredible to look at. For tradition, you can’t beat Lambeau; they’re great fans, very cool, and very nice people. You look up, and I’ve seen games where the Packers are winning by 24 in the fourth quarter and not one person has left — they’re incredible. You come in there three-and-a-half hours before the game and it’s 10 degrees out with a wind chill of minus-5, and they’re outside having a great time like it’s 55 degrees. That’s a really cool place. As far as cities, Chicago, obviously, is terrific. It’s hard to beat Chicago when you’re staying downtown and you got a choice of all those restaurants, walking around, and just enjoying the city. To me, a city like Minnesota’s underrated. I think Minneapolis is terrific; it’s got a great little downtown area. I think Indianapolis does, as well. There’s a lot of good ones. I think Ford Field is as good a building as there is in the NFL. I think it’s just a terrific venue. They did a good job designing it, and there’s definitely something nice about jumping in your car and being at home on a Sunday.

Any particular CD or CDs you would want to take with you on road trips?
Anything and everything by Counting Crows.

What are you looking for out of the Lions this upcoming season?
They can be a good team. There’s no question in my mind they can contend in the North. They can be a playoff team, but you have to go out there and do it. They got the talent to do that. I want to see how that offensive line does, but you have (Matthew) Stafford, Calvin (Johnson), a couple tight ends that can catch the ball — (Nate) Burleson and  (Ryan) Broyles — who, hopefully, are healthy. You got two stud defensive tackles, and I think a nice rotation at defensive end; you’ve updated at safety by getting (Glover) Quin. There is talent there to win, and now you have to go out and do that. I think they’re equipped to go out and win games. There’s too much talent here to say anything other than they should be in the playoffs.

What’s your favorite part of your job?
I love Sundays. I love doing the pre-game show with Wojo, Jamie (Samuelsen), (Sean) Baligian, Jennifer (Hammond) and all those guys. It’s like we’re just sitting around kicking it before the game. We have a great crew. Killer (Tom Kowalski), God bless (him), when he was here was a big part of that, as well. I’m going to work with the same people I’d go out to dinner with the night before. It’s because we’re all good friends and we have a ball. I love that. From there, I get to go up in the booth and sit with Brandy, who, I think, is as good, if not better, than any color analyst on any broadcast anywhere. He’s got amazing vision, knows the game, (and) he’s fun to work with. He goes wherever you (want to) go — we have a good time together. From TV to radio any given Sunday in the NFL season, I couldn’t ask for any more.

What are the keys for aspiring broadcasters who are looking to break into the business?
Confidence in yourself, because you’re going to hear “no” a lot more than you’re going to hear “yes.” You just really have to believe this is what you want to do and dedicate yourself to it. Never say no. You’re going to get opportunities and they may not seem like great ones, but everything kind of adds to your resume and adds to your experience. I tell interns that come through here, “ doesn’t matter if someone asks you to announce a grocery store opening,” if you got a microphone in your hand and a chance to talk into it, do it. I am a firm believer that when you’re coming up and establishing yourself, you don’t worry about time off, you just worry about doing as much as you can, getting as much experience as you can, learning from each of the experiences you have, and then try to learn from the people you’re around, as well. The biggest thing is, believe in yourself. It’s not easy. The business is even smaller now then when I got into it. There’s a lot of competition, so you have to just keep grinding away — to do that you have to be very resilient and have a lot of faith in yourself.

Do you have a favorite broadcasting moment up to this point?
I would say that San Diego game when they clinched a playoff spot a couple years ago. You could just feel the excitement in the air. It had been so long, and there had been so much these fans had endured. To be able to enjoy that day, and to see (Cliff) Avril make the interception, run it back for the touchdown, the fans going nuts, and the players coming back out on the field — that was just a pretty amazing day. I certainly hope that as time goes on there a bunch of Sundays that end up eclipsing that one, but for right now, having been through some tough seasons, that was the highlight just because of what it signified and what it earned the team.

When you are on the road, if you had one movie to take with you, which movie would you take with you?
I’ll take a complete season of “Justified” on the road.

How about a book?
Probably anything by Carl Hiaasen — makes me laugh.

How would you assess what the Lions have done in the offseason?
I think they’ve done some good things. I really like the (Israel) Idonije signing they just had. I’ve always liked watching him play. Unfortunately, it’s been him making good plays against the Lions. I think he’s a great addition at defensive end where they have some questions coming off last year.  The big questions I have, number one, you’re going to have three offensive linemen that haven’t played full-time in the NFL in all likelihood. What’s Louis Delmas’ health and what’s the other cornerback spot going to be like across from Chris Houston? There’s questions and they have some holes, but every team in the league has holes. It’s the team that can overcome them that ends up winning, and that’s your job. Figure out where your weaknesses are, figure out a way around them, and then accentuate your strengths. And they’ve got to figure out a way to do that — they do have some strengths they can work around.

Do you have somebody you consider to be the best player of all time, even if you want to break it up offensively or defensively?
I would say Lawrence Taylor’s probably the most disruptive player I’ve ever seen. He was just incredible to watch — he changed games. Teams had to figure out where he was; he changed the position. I find it hard to believe I’ve seen anybody as disruptive as him — he was something else to watch. Offensively, I probably have more favorites than I would consider great players. I got to see Barry (Sanders) for a couple seasons here before he left. Even though I wasn’t in Detroit until ‘97, I was obviously watching him from a long distance away. He was amazing. I don’t know how you can get more electric than Barry — Jerry Rice, too. To watch him (Rice) play, the way he could separate himself, and the things he could do on the field was pretty incredible. There’s been so many of them. But probably the guy that made the biggest impact, just in terms of watching him, was LT (Lawrence Taylor).

Is there any current guys you go to the booth looking forward to seeing?
Calvin (Johnson). He never ceases to amaze me. As Brandy says, “he’s never not open.” It’s really just an amazing thing. I count my blessings I’ve been able to watch a guy like him do what he does. I really hope they can play enough big games that he’ll get his just due along the way. He’ll get it individually, but it always means more if you’re doing it as part of an organization that’s winning championships, and doing the kind of things that Jerry Rice did along the way when he was so good. He’s breathtaking — he really is.

How good do you think (Matthew) Stafford could be?
I think he can be off the charts. I don’t know how anybody could say that there’s limitations on him. Now, he has work to do, and he has to get better, but when you have his arm and his football acumen, there is really no limits on what he can ultimately become. But you’ve got to put the whole package together. That’s not just you, that’s also the team around you. Sometimes, a quarterback’s best friend can be the defense they throw out there, as well — talking about on his team. He is incredibly gifted, still young, still with room to grow. I’m thrilled he’s going to be here another five years, and I think they can be five really, really good years.

What is the Fox 2 job that got you here to Detroit?
Yeah. I was working in D.C. doing talk radio during the week. I was doing weekends at the ABC station in Washington and my agent got the call from the news director here at Fox 2 and said “hey, I kind of like this guy’s tape. Can I meet (him)?” I came out here, interviewed — ultimately ended up getting the job.  It was a great opportunity to work in a great sports town. Packed up the wife and kids, and out we came.

What kind of jobs did you have before you got your big break?
I was a senior in high school and my public speaking teacher was also my basketball coach, my baseball coach and became a family friend. He was working at what used to be called the “Mutual Radio Network.” They were in Virginia, and they would hire college kids or young professionals to come in and produce their sports shows on the weekend. You might be editing, you might be tearing wire copy, you might be writing; there were a number of different jobs. They had an opening, and he knew this is what I wanted to do, so I went over there in April of my senior year and applied for the job, and I got it. I ended up being there for 11 years. That was a huge break for me to be able to get in there. I was able to get experience all through college — wasn’t bad getting paid for a weekend job when I was in college, as well. I produced football games there. I did on-air work there. I was able to really get a little bit of everything in the business, and it was valuable experience. I worked there all through college. Once I graduated, I attempted to get a job in TV and I applied everywhere, and I got turned down everywhere. I try to tell people “I know what I’m talking about when I talk about rejection, because I got rejected everywhere.” You go broke making those tapes back in the day, wasn’t like it is today where you just spin them off a DVD or something like that or put it online on You Tube. You had to go out and pay to get them dubbed.  You just kept grinding away and hoping something would finally pop.

Being as close to the game as you are, are you still as big a fan of the game as you  were before you got into the business?
Oh yeah. I still get goose bumps when the home team comes running out — I love that moment. Even when I’m doing the pre-game with Brandy, I always try to kind of pause just to hear them announce Calvin and Stafford, because I love hearing the way the crowd roars when they announce them, (Ndamukong) Suh, or KVB (Kyle Vanden Bosch) last year. I still love that, and I don’t think I ever will not love that. It’s such an amazing, electric atmosphere. Even when you’re on the road and you see the way fans react to their home team, I think that’s cool, as well. I tell people all the time, “Brandy and I feel the same emotions the fans feel.” We get angry, we’re happy, we’re up, we’re down — we feel it all just like you do. Sometimes, I know you can hear it in our voices. I am a fan. I love the game. I got into this because I love it. I got into it because I love sports. I could never find a way to turn that emotion off. I got a job to do, and I’ve got to tell people what’s going on, but it doesn’t mean I’m not riding the roller coaster when I’m doing it, and I know sometimes people can hear me on that roller coaster.

You’re calling it like a fan might, right?
There are people that would argue that if you’re in this business, you can’t be a fan. I’ve had that argument with plenty of people before. I’ll let them believe what they want to believe, but at the end of the day, it’s about your credibility. It’s about telling somebody it’s white if it’s white, black if it’s black, and grey if it’s grey. I’ve never shied away from the fact I’m in that booth rooting for the Lions, but we’re going to tell you if something goes wrong, why it goes wrong. But it doesn’t take more than about 10 minutes of listening to figure out we’re rooting for that team, and we want that team to win badly.

You can reach C & G Sports Writer Mark Vest at mvest@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1112. Twitter Follow Mark on Twitter.