John Miller will head straight from the plane to Fort Lauderdale’s Forest Lawn Memorial Gardens on Saturday.
When he gets there, he’ll meet with other family members at the final resting place of his mother.
They will laugh, and no doubt cry, as they remember Ernestine Miller on the one-year anniversary of her death.
“This trip will definitely be special for me,” Miller, a second-year guard for the Buffalo Bills, said this week. “It’s going to be good to be with my family. It’s going to be hard for me, but it will be good. We’re celebrating her life. She was a great woman and a great mom.”
Ernestine Miller lost her battle with cancer on Oct. 22, 2015. Fate doesn’t seem like it would play a part in shaping the NFL schedule, but Miller can’t come up with any other way to describe the Bills visiting Miami on this, of all weekends.
“You can’t go and see her. You can’t hear her voice. … but this weekend, I can spend a couple moments with her, talk with her,” he said.
Miller, who was just 22 at the time, was a continent away last season when his mother died. The Bills were preparing to face Jacksonville in London when he got the news, making the transatlantic flight home to Miami unimaginably long.
“I remember being with John when he
found out,” teammate Richie Incognito said. “I don’t know how I would even react to something like that. John’s just a rock-solid guy. We’re determined to go down there and try to get a win for him.”
The news of his mother’s death rocked Miller during what was a tumultuous rookie season.
“The experience has been tough,” he said. “Any time you lose a family member is hard, but it hits you a little harder when it’s your mom. It’s a daily thing, dealing with the pain. My family, my dad, they’ve been my support group, and that’s definitely helped. We’ve prayed a lot
On Mother’s Day, Miller posted the following message on his Instagram page, along with a photo with his mother: “Happy Mother’s Day to my beautiful angel. I love you with all my heart. I wish you were here so I can see that beautiful smile and hear that wonderful voice my dear. Not a second goes by where I’m not thinking
In addition to his family, Miller also has a locker room full of supporters, starting with coach Rex Ryan.
“He’s such a good teammate and he cares greatly about this football team and about his linemates,” Ryan said. “It’s important to him. But, man, he is a really good player.”
Miller missed four games last season because of a high ankle sprain and a shoulder injury. After returning home following his mother’s death, he was back at practice before the Bills’ next game. That did not give him much time to grieve.
“It was basically just a whirlwind,” Miller said. “After the season, I had time to reflect on everything that had happened. The biggest thing for me was, I had a lot of time to work on myself. I found peace with myself, let a lot of things go and just learned how to deal with it. You just have to give it to God and understand that everything happens for a reason.”
Miller threw himself into offseason workouts, determined to get in the best shape possible.
“I’m feeling pretty good about Year Two,” he said. “The most important thing for me is staying healthy, being available on Sundays for game day, and just coming out to practice each and every day, just grinding, trying to get better.”
The results have been obvious. A year after being graded as one of the worst starting guards in football by the analytics website Pro Football Focus, Miller is looked at as one of the best by his coach.
“I mean the combination of him and Richie Incognito are playing as good as it gets at the guard spot, I think,” Ryan said. “He is doing a tremendous job. Last year he played well until he kept battling all those injuries. He had that ankle, he had that
shoulder. All of a sudden his ‘play leveled off.’
“I guess so, he’s playing with a high ankle sprain and a shoulder, but he’s healthy now. He is playing really
Miller will face a big challenge this week against Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, but that’s not unlike the challenge he faced in Week Five against the Rams’ Aaron Donald. He aced that test.
Being healthy has allowed Miller to pull – which is a big change from last year, according to Incognito.
“Now we both can do it,” he said. “That helps the entire offense, because defenses don’t know which way we’re going to go.”