Jim Miller was a special kind of athlete.
“He was a clutch player,” said Dick Greene, who went against Miller in intra-city basketball for a few years. “When something had to happen, he made it happen.”
In particular, that would be in football and basketball at St. Pat’s (now Regis) and in football for Wisconsin’s Badgers.
Miller, who died in Rice Lake last Wednesday at the age of 87, was a four-year starter in both sports in high school and the most part of a three-year career at Madison.
Although a main part of his job was to hand the ball to future Heisman Award winner Alan ”The Horse” Ameche, he broke on the Badger scene dramatically in 1953 and stole some of Ameche’s thunder.
In his first start against Purdue as a sophomore quarterback four games into the season, he ran 50 and 7 yards for touchdowns to spark a 28-19 win.
He ran 10 and 11 yards for touchdowns and passed for a third in a 20-19 loss to Ohio State in which he piled up 195 yards running and passing. His 38-yard scoring pass to Harland Carl beat Iowa 10-6 and in a 34-13 win over Northwestern, he fired TD passes of 52 and 42 yards.
As Wisconsin’s first running quarterback, he was praised for “running with instinct.” He also led the Big Ten in passing with 683 yards while piling up 995 total offense yards and leading the team in scoring.
Miller teamed with Jim Haluska to lead the Badgers to a 7-2 record in 1954 when he totaled 869 yards running and passing for a team that reached as high as No. 2 in the AP poll. He also shared duties with Haluska as a senior and finished his career with 1,554 passing yards and a 17-9-1 record.
Most of this came with a back injury that plagued him through most of his playing days.
“He was hurting most of his career,” said Jim “Mack” Kauffman, a basketball teammate at St. Pat’s. “But he just wouldn’t quit.”
Miller helped lead St. Pat’s to its first wins over city rival Senior High in both football and basketball and to a Catholic state championship in 1952 in an era of impressive success.
A deadly outside shooter, he scored over 1,000 points his four-year basketball career and drew attention from colleges.
Charlie Mencel, an Old Abe who went against Miller in high school, became a freshman sensation at Minnesota and promoted Miller to Gophers coach Ozzie Cowles should he take the basketball route.
Miller did choose football, following to Madison cousin Pat O’Donahue, who became an All-America defensive end for the 1951 Badger “Hard Rocks.”
Kauffman said Miller wasn’t big (6-0, 169 as the Badger QB) and faced a tough road because of his back problem “but went full speed all the time.”
Despite his successful athletic record, Miller shunned the spotlight and was never one to flaunt his accomplishments.
“He was one of the best competitors I ever played against,” Greene said. “And one of the best gentlemen.”