Jim Miller, Bears QB 1998-2002
Jim Miller joined the Chicago Bears as a nondescript journeyman on December 2, 1998. During 1999's training camp, a beat reporter described Miller as "just an arm", and predicted the QB would be the first signalcaller waived. Much to the reporter's surprise, Miller hung on in Chicago for four full seasons, assisted the Bears in making their first playoff appearance in eight years, and pulled down a big contract. Often a fan favorite, sometimes the subject of boos, Miller's tenure ended on February 26, 2003. Miller was an enigma in Chicago-was he that talented or just the product of a system?
Miller was drafted in the sixth round of the 1994 draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers after finishing at Michigan State as the school's third-best QB all-time. He didn't play in a game in 1994, and relieved former Bear Mike Tomczak in two September games in 1995. After training camp in 1996, he was annoited the Steeler's starting QB, a title which lasted all of one half. Miller was benched at halftime in the 1996 season opener for Tomczak after completing 9 of 16 passes for 83 yards. He would not regain the starting job and was cut by Pittsburgh prior to the season. Miller said he never found out why he fell out of favor with coach Bill Cowher.
In 1997, he spent time with Jacksonville and Atlanta, but never threw a pass. 1998 found him as a backup with Detroit, who eventually cut him, and he was finally signed by the Bears to finish the season as a backup after injuries to Erik Kramer and Moses Moreno.
Miller entered camp as a longshot to make the Bears roster. Battling with him for QB spots that summer were first-round pick Cade McNown, along with Shane Matthews, former Saint Doug Nussmeier and Moreno. Two of these players would be cut, and the media figured it would be the erratic Miller.
After several solid preseason performances, Miller made the '99 roster as the third-stringer behind Matthews and McNown. The money had been on Moreno, who displayed far better mobility than Miller, but the latter's performance won the spot.
Number 15's first action in 1999 came at Tampa. Shane Matthews had performed well in Gary Crowton's "Razzle-Dazzle" offense, but was injured at Minnesota and was inactive for the Tampa game. The Bears could only muster 3 points behind Cade McNown in his second start, and Miller was inserted in the second half. He looked to be driving the team for a score, but threw an interception to Derrick Brooks with under 2 minutes to go, ending the possible heroics. Two weeks later at Green Bay McNown injured his knee, and Miller again came on in relief. This time Miller performed admirably, throwing a TD pass to Bobby Engram, and Chicago won 14-13. Still, the best was yet to come.
At home against Minnesota the following week, Chicago opened it up, and Miller threw for 422 yards, most by a Bear since 1962. At San Diego the next week he threw for 357, then 204 at Detroit. Rookie coach Dick Jauron announced the starting QB job was Miller's to lose, just before Miller was handed a four-game suspension for using a banned over-the-counter fitness product. Miller chose to take the suspension in 1999, and would come back to try to win the job in 2000. But first, he entertained an offer from the Miami Dolphins as a free agent to follow legend Dan Marino. Miami quickly rebuffed and chose Jay Fiedler over him, and Miller resigned a two-year incentive-laden contract.
2000 started out ominously for Miller, as he was hit and injured in his first play from scrimmage in the opening preseason game at New York's Meadowlands. This sidelined the veteran signalcaller, allowing Cade McNown to win the starting job. Miller healed by the third game of the season, and McNown's poor performances led the home crowd to chant "Miller!" for the backup during almost every timeout. He finally got his chance against Philadelphia when McNown was injured and the 1-6 Bears trailed. He was unable to bring the team back in this game, but saved his best effort for the following week against the high-powered Indianapolis Colts.
In his only start of the 2000 season, Jim Miller transformed a ragged Bears team, who upset the heavily-favored Colts 27-24. Fans raved as it looked like the season would be turned around, but Miller tore his Achilles Tendon at Buffalo the following week, and was out for 2000.
Another ding (hamstring) on the first day of camp 2001 again prevented Miller from competing for the starting job, which Shane Matthews won. Matthews and John Shoop's offense faltered in the first game-and-a-half, and a knee injury to Matthews opened the door for Miller's return in the second half of the season's second game against Minnesota. Miller again worked the magic fans had come to expect, and Chicago came back to beat the Vikings on two Miller TD passes. He managed John Shoop's conservative offense well for the remainder of the season, leading the Bears to a 13-3 record and a home playoff game. In that playoff game, Miller was again injured, this time seperating his shoulder, and the 2001 season promptly ended.
"A healthy Jim Miller can lead the Bears to a Super Bowl" declared Bears GM Jerry Angelo during the 2001/2002 offseason. Angelo then awarded Miller a five-year $20 million contract, again loaded with incentives for playing time and statistics. Angelo signed equally-brittle Chris Chandler to back up Miller, and the stage was set for a comedic revolving door at the position during the 2002 season. Miller started the first five weeks of the season, after which it was announced he was suffering from elbow tendinitis and would need to be rested. Chandler started the next two games, then was knocked silly November 3rd against Philadelphia. Undaunted, the gritty Miller started and finished the next four games, until he his season ended at Miami with a knee injury. During these six games, Miller often missed throws badly due to his elbow and shoulder problems, but a gimpy Miller was the best QB the team could field.
As recently as early February 2002, it was stated publicly that Miller fit into the Bears' QB plans for 2003. That illusion ended with his surprise release on February 26. The gutsy QB was declared "snakebitten" by Angelo, who stated that the team didn't want to wait until training camp to learn of his availability for the season. Thus ended the enigmatic career of the fan favorite and leader in Chicago.
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