Fred D. Miller, the 250-pound Pro Bowl tackle who was the anchor of the Baltimore Colts’ defensive line and helped them reach two Super Bowls, died Sunday of respiratory failure at Brightview Senior Living in Timonium. The former longtime Carroll County farmer was 82.
“Fred was just a rock, and was consistent on and off the field,” said Ernest W. “Ernie” Accorsi Jr., former Baltimore Colts public relations director and general manager.
“And I remember the great [Colts guard] Danny Sullivan saying, ‘I don’t think Fred ever had a bad day.’ He was a steady, solid player, who was always there,” Mr. Accorsi said. “I can’t think of a better character and a great human being than Fred Miller.”
Bruce A. Laird, a safety and kick returner, played for the Colts from 1972 to 1981.
“I was a rookie and he was in his last year. Rookies are seen and not heard. You kept out of their way because guys like Fred Miller were part of a cast of characters and were gods to us,” Mr. Laird said. “And here I am, a 21-year-old long-hair dude in summer training camp worried about being sent home.
But here was Fred, this Southern guy, and consummate gentleman. He was a team guy and not a me guy.”
Fred David Miller, son of Will T. Miller, a sharecropper, and Lorenia Miller, a nurse, was born and raised in Homer, Louisiana.
It was a hardscrabble life, as he was raised in a stark wooden cabin without electricity or plumbing, and wore drawstring pants and shirts that his grandmother fashioned from cotton and chicken patterned feed bags.
When he graduated from Homer High School in 1958, townspeople chipped in and purchased a suit that Mr. Miller could wear to graduation
But football would eventually be the way out.
“Fred worked the nearby cotton fields, shaping the steel will that would steady him in football and beyond,” wrote The Sun in 2011. “Come harvest, he’d pick cotton at 6 a.m. before going to school.”
“His work ethic was legend. As a kid, after chores — splitting wood or picking corn or plowing the sandy clay soil — Fred would wipe his brow and head for the woods, his training ground for football,” according to The Sun. “He did chin-ups on tree branches and ran through grassy field firebreaks amid the scrub pines, pushing ahead until he collapsed. Then he’d pick up a rock, mark the spot, intent on running farther next time.”
During his tenure at Homer High, he was a four-year letterman, playing football for the Homer Pelicans, where he led the team — known as the “Iron Men” — to the 1957 state championship game.
Even though the Pelicans lost, 19-7, Mr. Miller’s performance caught the attention of scouts, and with a number of colleges offering football scholarships, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound lineman, chose to play for Louisiana State University.
At LSU, he added 30 pounds, made All-American and led his team to consecutive Orange and Cotton Bowl victories.
He was a junior when the Baltimore Colts selected him in the seventh round of the 1962 NFL draft, which gave the team his rights until he completed college.
In 1963, LSU finished with a 10-1 record that included a shutout of Texas in the Cotton Bowl. He graduated that year with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture.
In addition to his football life at LSU, he met and fell in love with a classmate, the former Charlene Coco, and they married in 1963.
“He is considered a surefire bet to make good in the pro ranks and he thus was one of the gridders the club felt was a ‘must’ to further its rebuilding plans,” The Evening Sun wrote at the time of his signing.
His first Baltimore Colts game was the only one in which he didn’t start during his entire Colts career.
During his years with the Colts he, “won Pro Bowl recognition three times — 1967 through 1969; played in three world championships games: the 1964 NFL championship game against the Brown, Super Bowl III against the Jets, and Super Bowl V against the Cowboys,” according to a family biographical profile.
“Fred would stop runners in their tracks,” Dan Sullivan, who played with Mr. Miller for a decade, told The Sun in 2011. “He was quick to learn and strong as a bull, though I don’t think he ever lifted a weight in his life.”
News accounts said that Mr. Miller was impervious to pain and would keep on playing.
“It was Super Bowl V and I was standing next to Fred. It was the last two minutes and everything was hysterical,” Mr. Accorsi recalled. “A lot of players turned their backs to the field but not Fred. He stood there tall and calm. I never saw him change moods the entire time he was with us.”
Talking about the Super Bowl V win over the Dallas Cowboys, Mr. Miller recalled in a 2009 interview, “That was one of the hardest-hitting games I ever played. The next morning, when I got up for breakfast, I could hardly lift my arms to cut my pancakes. First time that ever happened.”
In 1973, Mr. Miller was traded to Washington.
“No I’m not bitter about the trade or for that matter with Joe Thomas [former Colts’ general manager and coach]. Football has been too good to me to ever be bitter,” Mr. Miller told The Sun at the time. “I have too many memories of 10 years of good things and bad, like losing the Super Bowl, to ever be bitter.”
“Football is the reason I got an education,” he told another reporter. “It’s the reason I met many, many people. I’ve had lunch at the White House. I’ve met a lot of folks in politics, and movies, and everything else. It’s been a good life.”
He was inducted into the LSU Hall of Fame in 1964, the Louisiana State Athletics Hall of Fame in 1990 and the Southeastern Conference Football Legends Class in 2010.
When his professional playing days ended, he and his wife retreated to Angel Acres, their 46-acre farm in Upperco where they raised beef, pork and poultry.
While Mrs. Miller tended an acre vegetable garden and canned much of the produce, he kept busy tending the fields, caring for a spring-fed pond full of bass and catfish and repairing a goose pit for fall hunting.
They sold the farm in 2011.
Mr. Miller was Mrs. Miller’s caregiver due to her having scoliosis. A stroke later left her mostly bedridden until her death in 2017.
Refusing to put his wife in a nursing home, he told The Sun in 2009, “Our marriage vows read, ‘In sickness and in health.’ This is what it meant.”
“He loved focusing on his family, sports, hunting and fishing,” said a son, David W. Miller of Westminster. “These were the things he was most passionate about.”
Mrs. Miller was a devout Roman Catholic, while her husband was a Baptist, but several years ago, he converted to Catholicism.
“They were both amazing and such a great couple. I thought the world of them. He’d bring me a goose and Charlene was a wonderful Cajun cook,” said the Rev. Michael J. Roach, former pastor of Saint Bartholomew in Manchester. “Fred had a great heart and knew the Lord.”
A funeral service will be held at 10 a.m. today at Saint Bartholomew Catholic Church, 2930 Hanover Pike, Manchester.
In addition to son David W. Miller, he is survived by three other sons, Daniel J. Miller of Ocean Pines, Jacob P. Miller of Finksburg, and Luke P. Miller of Towson; 11 grandchildren; and a great-grandson.