Winter Classic NHL's favorite time of year
This might seem strange to those of you under age 9 or so, but there was a time when sports fans in the Northeast and Midwest most associated New Year's Day with college football.
"Our feeling was college football had ceded the day,'' he said.
The NHL was happy to take it, although it took several years for the Winter Classic to become a reality after fits and starts that included the idea of having the Rangers face the Bruins at Yankee Stadium.
Finally Miller - working with John Collins, now the NHL's COO - helped launch the concept with the Penguins visiting the Sabres at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Jan. 1, 2008.
The event surpassed the hopes of even the most puck-headed optimists, thanks to picturesque snow, shootout drama and the aforementioned programming void.
"It so far exceeded anything anybody could ever imagine,'' Miller said. And, here we are, three years later, with one of the fastest-germinating "traditions'' in the history of sports.
At Wrigley Field in 2009, the game attracted the biggest NHL regular-season TV audience since 1975. Ratings were down a bit last year at Fenway Park, but still far above usual hockey levels.
Said host Bob Costas: "The players want to be there, coaches want to be there and absolutely everybody who's a fan of the game wants to be at this event.''
After enjoying good weather luck to date, it faces a worst-case forecast: rain and warm temperatures.
If that had happened in 2008, the event might never have gotten off the ground. Now it can withstand some misfortune.
There certainly is no shortage of teams and sites lined up for their turns. Intriguing possibilities include Michigan's "Big House,'' which recently drew 113,441 for a college game, as well as Denver and Minneapolis.
What about, ahem, New York?
Again, that was the original idea. But, Miller said, "The Yankee Stadium guys always had a reason it wouldn't work, which was fine with us. If they didn't want it, it's OK.''
It appears it won't work in the new stadium, either, because of the commitment to the Pinstripe Bowl, which debuted Thursday.
"They have taken themselves out of the equation,'' Miller said. "It's unfortunate, because obviously, it would be great to be able to look there . . . They had actually come to us at one point and asked to change the date. I said, 'No, that doesn't work.' ''
Commissioner Gary Bettman called it a "great venue,'' even though he said hockey sightlines generally are better at football stadiums than baseball parks.
"Nothing has been ruled in or ruled out,'' he said. "The only way you can get ruled out is by putting yourself in a position where the venue is not available.''
In another sign of the Classic's evolution, HBO has produced a "24/7'' reality series following the teams - including the Penguins' upset loss at the Islanders Wednesday - that has offered insightful, behind-the-scenes content in addition to prodigious cursing that would make even Rex Ryan blush.
The big show comes Saturday on NBC. Or Saturday night. Or maybe Sunday. If not then, the game will be scheduled at a later date, indoors.
Indoors? Gasp. What fun would that be?