Tight end Zach Miller was honored as the Bears' recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award Tuesday by Maryville Academy at Manzo's Banquets in Des Plaines.
The prestigious awards are presented to one player on all 32 NFL teams who best exemplifies a commitment to sportsmanship and courage and serves as an inspiration in the locker room. The award recipients, who are voted for by their teammates, symbolize professionalism, great strength and dedication, and they are considered community role models.
"It means a lot," Miller said. "Just what the award stands for, what the Ed Block Courage Foundation does for people in need, and just the sheer fact that it's voted on by your teammates, that means a lot. To have your peers have a say-so in an award that you win, it means a lot because there's nobody that you want to be respected by more than your peers. So I'm honored to be here and humbled to win the award."
Miller, 34, earned the honor primarily due to the fierce determination and perseverance he's displayed since sustaining a devastating knee injury Oct. 29, 2017 in a game against the Saints.
The Bears tight end suffered a dislocated knee and torn popliteal artery while catching an apparent 25-yard touchdown pass that was later reversed to an incomplete pass following a replay review. Miller was rushed to the University Medical Center in New Orleans, where he underwent emergency vascular surgery. Bears doctors and trainers helped save his leg by quickly diagnosing a vascular issue that required immediate attention.
Miller, who has had a total of nine surgeries during a grueling rehabilitation process, is grateful for the support he's received literally from all over the world. He's especially proud of inspiring others who have suffered similar injuries.
One of those individuals is Alex Ruiz, a quarterback at Linfield Christian High School in Temecula, Calif., who had his right leg amputated below the knee after tearing an artery three weeks before Miller was injured against the Saints.
"It's a special feeling because you don't understand these situations until you're really put into them," Miller said. "You don't necessarily understand the impact that you have on people. It carries a little bit of weight because I've been involved now with people in less fortunate situations than myself. I could have been in their shoes, so I understand the blessing it is to be here on my own two feet. I understand the privilege I have to carry on the way that I am.
"I get countless messages day-in and day-out from people who are rehabbing or going through something who say, 'Hey, I was able to get through a day by seeing your story.' That's cool for me to impact somebody indirectly. It's something that really makes you feel good."
Miller remains unsure about whether he'll be able to play pro football again.
"I don't know yet," he said. "There will be a time, probably soon, that we'll make that decision. I haven't made that decision yet. It's something that we're exhausting every option we can. I know it's getting close. I can't hold it hostage forever, and I don't plan to, but there are some things that I need to try and do physically and see if it's possible.
"What we've been doing rehab-wise and communication-wise with the franchise is we're going to give it a little bit of time to kind of see where we go, and when that point comes, I know that I'll have given every single thing that I had to do that, and I'll be comfortable any which way that it happens."
Asked where he is in his rehab, Miller said: "I've jogged a little bit. When I was doing it, kind of behind closed doors trying to push a little bit, it hurts. I've got a little bit of physical pain that I've got to figure out if I can handle. I think that's going to be a big hurdle in seeing where my body reacts physically.
"I haven't been able to go anywhere near to what I would do on a football field. That's just a time-sensitive thing we're working out. But I know the fact that I'm here on two feet, to be able to stand here, is a blessing in itself, and if anything else could come of that, it would be icing on the cake."
The Bears were represented at Tuesday's Ed Block luncheon by owner Virginia McCaskey and two of her sons, team vice presidents Patrick McCaskey and Brian McCaskey, along with other staff members.
The luncheon also honors the late Ed McCaskey, Virginia's husband, by raising money for a fund in his name that provides high school, college and vocational scholarships to the children of Maryville. During his tenure with the Bears—first as vice president and treasurer and later as chairman and chairman emeritus—McCaskey was known for his generosity to Maryville.
Ed Block was a long-time head trainer with the Baltimore Colts who was a pioneer in his field. The foundation promotes the prevention of child abuse by raising awareness of the epidemic and assisting agencies that provide for the care and treatment of abused children.
Block and his wife dedicated their lives to helping children in distress as foster parents and advisers. There are presently 23 Courage Houses connected with NFL teams and this is the 39th year the awards have been presented.
Take a look back at all of the previous Bears players who have won the Ed Block Courage Award.