Two months ago, Chicago Bears tight end Zach Miller nearly lost his leg.
During what seemed like a routine play, Miller nearly caught a touchdown pass (it was originally called a touchdown, but the call was reversed upon further review) from rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, awkwardly twisting his knee on the way down. Although the injury appeared serious upon first inspection, it quickly became clear it had had devastating results.
At that point, Miller was rushed to a local hospital in New Orleans, where it was determined he had suffered a torn popliteal artery to go along with a dislocated knee. The torn artery began spilling blood into his leg, presenting an immediate danger to the leg’s long-term viability.
Thankfully, the injury was discovered quickly and treated by vascular surgeons at University Medical Center New Orleans. Now on the road to recovery, Miller recently posted a video of his first steps after the harrowing injury.
Here’s more context on the injury, via ESPN:
A source told ESPN’s Chris Mortensen later Monday that the artery was found “shredded from above the knee joint to below the knee” by the vascular surgeons, who diagnosed Miller’s injury as lateral subluxation. There is also orthopedic damage to the knee, the source said.
The surgeons praised Bears team doctor Mark Bowen for quickly identifying the vascular problem by checking Miller’s dropping pulse.
According to the source, surgeons used a saphenous vein graft procedure of surgery to revascularize Miller’s leg.
League and team sources told ESPN’s Chris Mortensen earlier Monday that surgeons had been working to save Miller’s leg, although it was not clear whether amputation was ever considered.
“I think that’s always a concern,” coach John Fox said when asked about amputation. “Our medical people did a great job as far as getting him there; they realized the problem immediately.”
Since that haunting day, Miller has undergone eight surgeries to repair his knee — with more potentially needed in the future. Now on the mend, it’s unclear what the future may hold for the 33-year-old tight end. While it’s clear he wants to continue playing football, Miller also seems to have his reservations after suffering such a devastating injury.
“I haven’t really told anybody yes or no, whether that’s a definitive thing for me,” Miller told The Dan Patrick Show about a possible return to the gridiron. “I haven’t been told ‘no.’ I’ve actually been told ‘yes’ by a number of doctors. For me, it’s, ‘We’ll cross that road when it comes time.’”
"It gets a little dicey sometimes." – Bears TE Zach Miller on conversations with his wife about him wanting to return to NFL
— Andrew Perloff (@andrewperloff) December 15, 2017
Despite everything, Miller has taken a positive tone when discussing what many consider a career-ending injury.
“If anything,” Miller said, “I know that I’ll be better when this is done. This ain’t the end of my life.”
Since joining the Bears back in 2013, Miller has enjoyed a career revival. Originally a 2009 sixth-round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars, he lasted only three years with his original team before being waived. He then landed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the 2013 offseason, but failed to crack the final roster and was cut in late August.
Even Miller’s first full season in Chicago was one worth forgetting. A preseason foot injury cost him the entire campaign, forcing him to sit and wait for his opportunity until 2015. When that opportunity finally came, though, he seized it.
In his first year as the Bears’ starter, he hauled in 34 passes for 439 yards and five touchdowns. It wasn’t a monstrous season by any means, but his reliable hands, sneaky athleticism, and acrobatic catches convinced the team’s brass to keep him around. Things only got better in 2016, when Miller snagged 47 passes for 487 yards and four touchdowns despite only playing in 10 games.
Injuries have plagued Miller for much of his career, but none took quite the toll as this last one. That’s why it’s no wonder his long-term health has taken center stage in the discussions surrounding his future. Is being unable to walk normally for the rest of his life worth another year or two in the NFL?
In the end, it’s up to Miller to determine what’s best for him and his family. If he decides to return, then more power to him — the Windy City faithful would embrace him with open arms. If he decides to call it a career, though, no one would blame him for choosing his personal health and safety over a couple more years of putting himself directly in danger’s path.
“Do I want to play football?” Miller said. “What do you think? I’ve been a football player my whole life. I would love to play football.”
Only time will tell what he decides. For now, all we can do is watch in awe as Miller battles his way back from an unfortunate injury that he nearly paid for in flesh and bone.