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AT LONG LAST WE MEET GRACIOUS BUFFALO LEGEND

This is a story of how people's paths can cross after many years, and how we met a Buffalo legend 1,500 miles from home, someone we've invited into our living room many times but never actually met.

Every March for the past several years, my wife and I have vacationed in Florida during Easter week. This year, we were visiting friends near Orlando.

It was early evening of our last day there, and we decided to drop off our daughter, Courtney, and her friend, Amber, at a movie theater and go to a local micro brewery.

My friend, Jim, and I had to be the responsible ones because we were driving, so we each had only one beer. That didn't stop my wife, Debbie, and her friend, Pat, from sampling many types of brews.

After about 90 minutes, we were ready to leave. But when we got to the door, we found there was an absolute deluge pouring from the sky. I decided to make a quick run to get the girls -- the movie complex was only a short block away -- and told Jim to get our van and pick us up.

So there I was, waiting outside the movie theater with two 13-year-old girls in the pouring rain, when a van pulled up and Debbie jumped out, oblivious to the weather, and started yelling, "Hurry up and get in. We have to pick up Van."

Seizing the opportunity to correct my wife for a change, while keeping in mind that her blood alcohol content was a little above average, I gently said, "Deb, we already picked up the van. Look around, you are in the van."

She responded, "No, I mean Van Miller."

It was April Fools' Eve and we had just left a brewery, so I decided to go with the flow.

We drove back to the brewery, and went back in the place we had just walked out of. My wife excitedly pulled me toward a gentleman and his wife having dinner. As I approached their table from behind, I saw the man's Buffalo Bills Super Bowl jacket.

Apparently Deb and Pat had been leaving the brewery when Deb suddenly stopped, hip-checked Pat almost to the floor and started pointing at a couple quietly having dinner.

"Oh my God, Van Miller, Hall of Fame, Buffalo Bills," she yelled.

Miller was very gracious and replied, "Yes I am, Buffalo Bills, Hall of Fame."

Then he said, "Can I get a ride home? We walked here and it is pouring rain as you can see. I hope you have a big car."

Of course we gave him a ride back to where he was staying. He invited us in, gave us his autograph and took some pictures. We thoroughly enjoyed an hour or so with Van and his wife, Gloria.

He was very gracious as we talked about Buffalo sports over the years. The highlight was when he shared a few of the thousands of stories he has collected over four decades as the voice of the Buffalo Bills.

It's funny how things happen. After listening to him on the air for some 40 years, I can now call him my friend and attest to his being a gentleman and a fine emissary for Western New York.

And remember, a Van is not always a van.

Bruce Tuberdyke lives in Hamburg.