William Louis 'Bill' Miller, Colts band member, dies

Trombone player was on field at 'The Greatest Game Ever Played'

September 24, 2010|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

William Louis "Bill" Miller, an original member of the Colts Marching Band and a retired educator, died Sept. 15 of myelodysplastic syndrome at Mandarin House Hospice in Harwood.

Mr. Miller, who had homes in Columbia and Annapolis, was 77.

Mr. Miller, whose parents owned Miller's Hardware at East Baltimore and Clinton streets, was born in Baltimore and raised in Highlandtown.

He was a 1950 graduate of the old Patterson Park High School and earned a bachelor's degree in education in 1954 from what is now Towson University.

In 1967, Mr. Miller earned a master's degree in education from Western Maryland College, now McDaniel College.

He began his teaching career at John Ruhrah Elementary School in Greektown in 1954 and returned to teaching in 1958, after being drafted into the Army, where he was a radio instructor for two years.

Mr. Miller later taught in Baltimore County public schools and then became an administrator of the Mobile Education Technology Unit, which showed teachers how to incorporate various media into the classroom.

He retired in 1983 after a heart attack.

Mr. Miller's interest in music began in his childhood, and during his high school years, he played trombone in the school band.

Mr. Miller was a founding member in 1947 of the all-volunteer Colts Marching Band when the Colts were in the All-America Conference.

He rose to become the band's vice president in 1963.

One of Mr. Miller's highlights during his 21-year tenure with the band was the 1958 NFL sudden-death championship game between the Colts and the New York Giants played at Yankee Stadium.

When the Colts tied the game and eventually won it — 23-17 — to become football's world champions, Colts fans were delirious with joy and swept onto the field.

In the ensuing chaos, the Colts Marching Band members did their best to keep the celebratory mood going as they marched from one end of the field to the other playing a rousing rendition of their signature "Colts Fight Song," and "Maryland, My Maryland."

"We didn't give a damn. We were going to march up and down that field," Mr. Miller recalled in a 2008 interview in The Capital newspaper of Annapolis. "We didn't care what it would cost us; dented horns can be fixed. It was such a thrill, such an experience."

The party kept on rolling as happy fans boarded trains at Pennsylvania Station. Suitcases containing whiskey were popped open by celebrants and the bar car did a land office business, which ensured that the party would keep going.

As happy fans rode through the night to Baltimore, Mr. Miller was part of a sextet that roamed from car to car playing the football music they wanted to hear.

Mr. Miller recalled that at the end of each "concert" a hat was passed, and by the time the train came to a halt at Baltimore's Penn Station, he had made $80.

"When I got off the train in Baltimore, my mouth was bleeding from playing so much and the jolt of the train causing my mouthpiece to hit my mouth," he said in the interview.

When told he had played the "Colts Fight Song" 56 times during the journey from New York, upon detraining and reaching the station waiting room, Mr. Miller jumped on a bench and played it two more times.

"58 in '58," he said.

Mr. Miller also played with the band when the Ravens came to Baltimore.

In 1997, the Marching Ravens honored Mr. Miller on the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Colts Marching Band, and a decade later, on its 60th anniversary.

Mr. Miller was interviewed and appeared in Barry Levinson's "The Band That Wouldn't Die," the ESPN documentary about the band that aired in 2009.

Mr. Miller also became close friends with several team members, including Johnny Unitas, whom the band used to serenade during games with "Oh! Johnny."

"He used to baby-sit Johnny Unitas' children," said his wife of 12 years, the former Joyce Cortright.

In addition to his marching band work, Mr. Miller also played with the Middle River Concert Band, Tall Cedars of Lebanon Band and the Boumi Brass Band.

Mr. Miller, who struggled for several years with myelodysplastic syndrome, a rare blood disease, continued performing until about six months ago.

He became active in 1989 with the Patterson High School Alumni Association and later served on the organization's board, as its treasurer and later its president.

He was editor of "The Patterson Clipper," the school's alumni newsletter, until his death.

The newsletter became a major fundraising tool for the school and helped provide educational materials, equipment, special projects and scholarships.

Until two days before his death, Mr. Miller was working on a project that involved several faculty members being inducted into the Sports Legends Museum in Baltimore.

"Bill was quite a guy and well-known around the Highlandtown and Canton area. You might say that Bill was 'Mr. Patterson High,' and an all-around nice guy," said Ted Lingelbach, editor of City College's alumni newsletter.

"That's how I got to know Bill, through my editorship of the newsletter," Mr. Lingelbach recalled. "We'd exchange information and talk. He'd go down to [city school headquarters on] North Avenue, if he had to, and fight for whatever it was he wanted for Patterson. There wasn't anything he wouldn't do for the school."

Mr. Miller also occasionally wrote "The Long Boat" for The Baltimore Guide, a column that was devoted to news about Patterson High School.

He was inducted into the Patterson Alumni Hall of Fame in 1995 and the Sports Legends Museum.

At Mr. Miller's request, no services will be held.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Miller is survived by a brother, George H. Miller of Bel Air; two nephews; and a niece.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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