Chicago Bears Top 100: #91 Jim Miller

We’re heading into the dog days of the offseason, counting the days until the Chicago Bears 2014 season kicks off.  Thanks to Bear Goggles On contributor and the fine editor of Blackhawk Up Keith Schultz’s suggestion, we’re going to do a Top 100 list of the all time Chicago Bears.  It’s a fun way to pass the time and take a stroll down memory lane.

Jim Miller was drafted in the 6th round by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1994 after three years as the starting QB for the Michigan St Spartans. Miller didn’t play much with the Steelers in his three years there; He didn’t play at all his rookie year but made three appearances his 2nd year throwing 2 TD passes and 5 INTs. Miller had an impressive training camp in 1996 and was named the Steelers opening day starter, but had a rough first half and was benched at halftime for Mike Tomczak of all people. Miller only appeared in one more game for the Steelers that season and then was released. In 1997 he signed with the Falcons, but didn’t take a snap all year. He started the ’98 season with the Lions but was released without ever seeing the field. With four games to go in the ’98 season and the Bears QB depth (Kramer, Stenstrom, Moreno) wrecked by injuries, the Bears signed Jim Miller as insurance in case another QB went down.

Based on his first five years in the league there wasn’t much excitement among Bears fans about Jim Miller going into the ’99 season. Most of the attention was given to the QB battle between 1st round pick Cade McNown and noodle-armed Shane Matthews. During training camp local media said Miller “looked terrible” and was “just an arm who will most likely be the first QB cut”. Miller defied the odds with an excellent preseason and beat out Moses Moreno and Doug Nussmeier for the 3rd QB spot.

Matthews ended up beating out McNown for the starting gig and played decent, but struggled to stay healthy. In week 7 with Matthews out and McNown struggling against a fierce Bucs defense, Miller got his first chance to play late in the 2nd half. He drove the Bears down the field with less than 2 minutes to go, but threw a pick in the red zone and the Bears lost 6-3. It wasn’t much but he moved the ball which McNown wasn’t able to do all game.

Miller got another shot two weeks later in Green Bay, again relieving the struggling McNown and threw a 2nd half TD pass to lead the Bears to a 14-13 win on the road vs their biggest rival. Miller was given the start the next week and took advantage of it, throwing for 422 yards and 3 TDs one of which tied the game with 0:49 left on the clock. Miller had another monster game in his next start with 357 yards in an overtime win vs the Chargers. Miller Time(!) was no longer a joke.

Unfortunately, Miller Time was short-lived. Days after being named the official starter, Miller was suspended for the last four games of the season due to violating the league’s substance abuse policy with an over-the-counter supplement. After the season the Bears signed Miller to a 2-yr contract and he came to camp ready to win the Bears starting QB job in 2000. Miller’s run of bad luck continued and he got hurt on his first play of the preseason. Cade McNown started the year as the Bears QB and “led” the Bears to a 1-7 start over the first eight weeks of the season before the Bears gave Miller the starting job back.

Miller rewarded all the fans who had been clamoring for him during McNown’s disastrous run as the starter. In his first start he led the Bears to an upset win over Peyton Manning and the Colts with an efficient 24-35, 214, 1 TD performance and gave Bears fans hope that the season wasn’t a lost cause. We should have known better, Miller ruptured his Achilles early the next week and was out for the season.

Miller’s string of ridiculous bad luck continued with a training camp injury in 2001 that kept him out until the 2nd half of week 2’s game vs the Vikings. With the Bears down 10-0 in the 2nd half and on the verge of starting the season 0-2, Miller came in for Shane Matthews and threw two 4th quarter TD passes to give the Bears the win. Miller Time was back! Miller made it through the whole season and did enough to lead the the Bears to a 13-3 season and a playoff berth. Of course, Miller’s stretch of good luck couldn’t last and he separated his shoulder after only throwing 5 passes in their first round match-up with the Eagles. Shane Matthews came on, sucked as usual, and the Bears Super Bowl dreams were crushed.

Finally realizing that Miller was the Bears best option at QB, GM Jerry Angelo signed Miller to a 5-yr, $20M deal before the 2002 season. Miller went into the season as the undisputed starter for the 1st time in his career, but it was the same old story for bad-luck Jim Miller. After inconsistent play the first 5 weeks of the season he was diagnosed with elbow tendonitis. He came back a few weeks later and then suffered a season ending knee injury.

The Bears released Miller before the 2003 season, Jerry Angelo called Miller “snake-bitten” and cited the uncertainty over his ability to get healthy in time for the 2003 season as the main reason for his release. Snake-bitten is putting it lightly, Jim Miller had some of the worst luck I have even seen an NFL player have. Every time he earned a starting job something happened shortly afterwards to take it away.

Miller never made a Pro Bowl with the Bears, or won a playoff game, or led the NFL in any statistical categories, but he gave Bear fans hope in an era where no other Bear QB could. Miller Time may have started out as a joke among fans, but Miller made it real with his late game comebacks and gutsy, clutch play. Besides the magical 2001 season, Miller couldn’t stay on the field long enough to lead the Bears to sustained success, but he gave fans something to look forward to while watching the rest of the Bears incompetent QBs. Those were dark times for Bears fans, but at least Miller gave us a chance at victory, the occasional glimpse of what a real NFL QB looked like, and the improbable 13-3 2001 season. For me that is enough for Miller to deserve a spot on this list.

What do you think of the ranking?  Too high?  Too low?  I guess you’ll have to check back to see who finished ahead of him to judge for yourself.  We’ll be counting down a different person each day as we inch our way to the September 7th season opener.

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