Red Miller's pillar unveiled at Ring of Fame Plaza
November 18, 2017 03:52 AM | Andrew Mason
DENVER -- Rain pelted Ring of Fame Plaza early Friday night as Robert "Red" Miller's family untied the ribbon and pulled back the shroud to reveal the former head coach's Ring of Fame pillar, a symbol of his everlasting place among Broncos legends.

It was appropriate. The rain and mounting chill created the kind of conditions that Miller could have appreciated, as a deluge like that would have turned a football game into a rough-hewn, ragged struggle decided not by the team that was the most talented, but the toughest and most tenacious.

"He could still be pretty stern if he wanted to be. He could be stern, but he had a really soft side too. Luckily, I got the soft side," said Miller's widow, Nan. "He was a combination of his mother, who was very soft and his father, who was very tough. I think Red got a lot of both and it made him a well-rounded person."

His players also saw both sides -- the caring mentor and the user-intense leader. He could get into a scrum and demonstrate technique, but he could also go to a piano and play some ragtime tunes, or have a heart-to-heart conversation with any player.

"He called everybody in individually when he first came and got the coaching job back in 1977, just to sit and listen," Ring of Fame linebacker Randy Gradishar said. "He was always fired up. He didn't turn red at that point, but he would get really excited what I call carrying out basic fundamentals of blocking, tackling, running the ball and catching the ball."

That intensity rarely ebbed.

"We were pretty intense in practice, so he didn't really care for the mental mistakes too much, even in practice," Gradishar recalled. "So you learned that, and that just brought that kind of discipline to the players.

"I remember Tom Jackson, he would always be getting fired up in the practices, because Red was fired up, and Red was yelling at the offense, defense or special-teams guys, so you're not making that mental mistake.

"You were almost glad that Sunday came in order to play the game, so that you could go out and have some fun."

It didn't take long from those daily sessions for the players to learn about the tough timber from which Miller was cut.

"Red, when he came in, we had to test him and find out what he was working with," Ring of Fame wide receiver Rick Upchurch recalled. "And when he took a couple of guys and put him on their backs ... and he got up in their face and that whole deal, we said, 'Oh, this is the type of guy that we want here.'

"He gave us that tough edge that we needed to beat the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs and those types of teams. That, we didn't have at the beginning."

The Broncos had never won a division title before Miller arrived. They won two in his first two seasons, and their success against the Raiders was the difference.

In the 14 seasons before Miller arrived, the Broncos won just two of 28 games against their division rivals. In his first two seasons, they defeated the Raiders in four of five games, including the 1977 AFC Championship Game.

"He said, 'How many years has it been since you beat the Oakland Raiders?'" Upchurch recalled. "And when he came in, he said, 'That stuff stops now.' And it did. It stopped, and we went there, and we beat them there in Oakland."

And then the Broncos beat them again and again ... and a slew of other teams as well, laying the groundwork for the decades of success that followed.

"Red really kind of started the winning tradition. He did a hell of a job while he was here," President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway said. "It's a great tribute to him."

A FEW MINUTES BEFORE Miller's pillar was unveiled, Hall of Famer Terrell Davis had another moment to marinate in his memorable year. He walked over to his pillar to unveil a plaque that now bears the Hall of Fame logo that also sits on the plaques belonging to John Elway, Floyd Little, Shannon Sharpe and Gary Zimmerman.

Davis will receive further recognition before Sunday's game, and he will also be awarded a Hall of Fame ring to commemorate his accomplishment.

As he pulled off the coverings to reveal his updated pillar and his Hall of Fame bust, he beamed with pride, resplendent in the gold Hall of Fame jacket he was given in August at his induction.

"It's the gift that keeps on giving I guess. Someone told me, I think Tim Brown said, 'You won't get any rest until August of next year,'" Davis said. "And I think he's right, but here's what's great about it, it's not like it's a one-time deal. It's been an event that's been celebrated since February when I heard the announcement and we're still celebrating.

"It's really hard, I'm serious, to put this into words how much this means and how special this honor is. It's not taken lightly. This is a huge honor."

Listen to "Rick Upchurch" on Spreaker.

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