In his first stint on Buffalo television on Channel 4 in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Channel 2 morning co-anchor John Beard was a teammate of Van Miller on the anchor desk.
Beard gave a glowing tribute to the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Braves play-by-play man on Channel 2’s 6 p.m. news Sunday, noting Miller's “sense of mischief” and love of being around people.
“There was a little boy inside Van the man,” said Beard.
So needless to say, the last thing that Beard probably wanted to do Saturday was upset Miller’s family after his death.
Unfortunately, Beard did just that.
He announced Miller’s death on Twitter before the family was ready to share it with the community. Other media outlets quickly followed by tweeting the news that several media outlets -- including this newspaper and Channel 4, where Miller worked for decades -- had the decency to delay for almost a full day as the family tried to contact people to give them the sad news before it became public.
Miller died late Friday afternoon, almost a full day before his death was announced by Beard.
Why did Beard take to Twitter to announce the death of his former teammate before the family was ready to do it?
“I assumed everybody knew about it,” said Beard in an interview.
He stopped short of saying he regretted announcing it without knowing if everybody in the family had been told.
“I would hate for any family member to find out that way, put it that way,” said Beard.
The family announced Miller’s death through the Bills at least an hour after Beard tweeted it.
I suppose it probably was too optimistic to think that, in the day of social media, families of prominent individuals will be able to control the message and announce when their loved ones die.
But I’ll put it this way: It is still a little sad that’s the way it is these days.
All three local news departments did a terrific job in their tributes to Miller Saturday. Some people might have thought all the attention was a little excessive even for a Western New York broadcasting icon. But Saturdays are often very slow news days so there is little reason to complain even about Channel 7 going more than 10 minutes on Miller at the top of one newscast. Saturday anchor Hannah Buehler, who used to work for the Bills, did an exceptional job for Channel 7 that solidified the view that she can go places in news.
But Channel 4 was the place to watch. It had the advantage of having file footage of Van on the station over the years, including a very funny scene in which Miller was singing.
It also had the best story, told by colleagues Jacquie Walker and Rich Newberg.
In their last visit to Van at the Schofield Residence in the Town of Tonawanda more than a week ago, Walker and Newberg said Miller was unable to talk after having suffered a stroke days earlier.
But as Miller’s former colleagues left, they were startled and moved that he somehow managed to get the word “Fandemonium” out.
It was a “Do You Believe?” Miller moment.
Miller always was upset with me for reporting that “Fandemonium” originated with Bills linebacker Darryl Talley but that the play-by-play man elevated the word into Bills history. All of the TV stations tributes had Miller coining the word.
I never meant to diminish Miller’s incredible historic call, just to put it into perspective.
Buffalo News reporter Gene Warner still has a shirt that The News made out of his front-page story carried on Nov. 21, 1988 after the Bills captured the AFC East title with a victory over the New York Jets. In the story, Talley is quoted as calling the aftermath “Fandemonium.”
Miller’s signature call of “Fandemonium” played over and over during the weekend came during the Bills’ 41-38 victory over Houston in the greatest comeback playoff game on Jan. 3, 1993.
ESPN's Kevin Connors, a Long Island guy who is a Bills booster, named Miller his "Star of the Night" on Saturday and played Miller's "Fandemonium" call.
Channel 4 plans a 30-minute special on Miller tonight at 5:30 p.m., which is a regular newscast time.