Eight surgeries and more than six weeks later, Zach Miller made an emotional, inspirational return to Halas Hall on Monday. Miller’s most recent surgery was Friday, and he only started bending his left knee on Friday, too.
The good news is the artery that was shredded when Miller awkwardly landed in the end zone of the Superdome Oct. 29 is “as strong if not stronger than it ever was,” Miller said. Miller didn’t wish to get into the structural specifics of his injury, but did say: “The main ligaments that normally are looked at and worried about are good.”
But perhaps the best news about Miller’s injury — and there wasn’t much good news that came with it — is that his outlook has remained so positive and uplifting, both for those who’ve personally been with him and those who’ve interacted with him on social media.
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“I don’t think that all of the things that I’ve had gone on throughout my entire career, I don’t think there’s a part for me to sit back and think, ‘Why me?’” Miller said. “If anything I know that I’ll be better when this is done. This ain’t the end of my life. There’s a ton of things that I’ll still be able to do and really everything’s been conveyed to me is I’m going to be completely fine after we get through this. So now it’s just grind through this, use this for any amount of positivity you can and carry on because we’ve got a lot of life left to lead. Trying to have as much fun doing that as possible.”
That mentality was described as “impressive” by Bears coach John Fox, and that’s an apt way of putting it. Miller almost lost his leg in the hours after initially suffering his injury, after all.
“That was very real,” Miller said Monday at Halas Hall. “A couple wrong turns away from actually happening. I had a ton of care, a lot of people helping me out throughout that entire process. But we were a couple minutes away from having that be real.”
Miller said he wasn’t initially told by doctors that amputation was a possibility, but he “just felt that” something more serious was going on.
“I remember, before I got into the emergency surgery, the last thing I was telling the doctors was ‘Please, save my leg” because I knew that something wasn’t quite right just in the way my leg was feeling and the way it was filling up,” Miller said. “I knew we had issues. That was kind of in the back of my mind. I didn’t want that to happen. And I made sure to tell them that, hey, I don’t want that to happen as well.
“… The initial knee injury was just weird. I knew I had a significant injury. I didn’t know what it looked like. I knew it was severe. Then as time went on, I could just feel more pressure, a little more swelling, the leg starting to balloon up a little bit. I could just tell there was something going on that wasn’t really quite normal with a normal knee injury. So it made me worried. That was the initial thought for me. I started to panic a little bit. I just wanted to get things under control.”
Miller hasn’t thought much about what’s next for him football-wise, preferring to focus on the day-to-day progress he’s made since returning to Chicago (being able to get out of the house and come to Halas Hall on Monday represented progress, for example). But while Miller is 33 and a free agent after this season, he’s not willing to give up right now and call it a career.
“I haven't really thought much of football from now on,” Miller said. “You know what I mean? I haven't got to that point. For me right now, it's just getting this right, getting healed up and when that point comes, make a decision.
“Do I want to play football? What do you think? I've been a football player my whole life. I would love to play football. We'll cross that road when it's time.”
If Miller’s playing career indeed is over, though, he can say he ended it with a touchdown. That may not have been what replay officials decided was the case, but that bizarre ruling isn’t what will live on in his mind, or the minds of nearly everyone who saw that play.
“That'll forever be a touchdown for me,” Miller said.