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Hack Miller lived life in VIP lane

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 5 1998 12:00 a.m. MDT

HACK MILLER, THE longtime sports editor/manager of the Deseret News who died last Friday, never did anything in a small way.

Case in point: Hack's church mission.In 1978, when he was 63 years old and had already written about 4 million columns, he and his wife Barbara were assigned as directors of the LDS Church's visitors center at the Lincoln Center in the heart of New York City. Sending Hack to the Big City was a natural. There were, of course, the usual concerns about being overwhelmed and perhaps a bit intimated, but with time we all had faith that the Big Apple would get over any jitters.

Anyway, one day we were sitting in the sports department, working on our leads, when Hack finished a telephone conversation and put down the phone.

"That was Spencer W. Kimball," he said, referring to the then president of the LDS Church. "I'm going on a mission."

When Hack got a call from a prophet, he Got A Call From A Prophet.

He never did anything small. Never. He spent his whole life in the VIP lane. A walking, talking superlative.

He had this uncanny knack of not just covering the news but being the news.

He went to cover a celebrity golf tournament once and, while playing in the pro-am, made a hole-in-one and won a Ferrari.

Thus he experienced that rare phenomenon of going on assignment to cover an event and finding out you are the event.

Another time, he covered a golf tournament and made friends with the winner, a man named Billy Casper. The next thing you know, Miller and Casper are fly-fishing buddies and Casper is being baptized into the LDS Church - by Hack. Yet again, Hack had made the transformation from news coverer to newsmaker.

In the Depression Era 30's, when he was on the basketball team at the University of Utah and a Deseret News staffer at the same time, he'd be in the byline AND the lead paragraph, as in:

By Hack Miller

Deseret News sports writer

LARAMIE, Wyo - The University of Utah basketball team, led by forward Hack Miller's 12 points and seven rebounds, defeated the University of Wyoming here Friday night ...

Lowell Thomas - who was to Hack's era what Dan Rather, Peter Jennings and Tom Brokaw combined are to today's - would come to Utah to go skiing and Hack wouldn't go to Alta merely to cover the visit by the world-famous commentator, he'd go to Alta because Lowell and Alf Engen wanted him to ski High Rustler with them.

He'd go on a fishing assignment and catch the biggest fish, he'd go on a river running assignment and remember the time he tamed the river. In 1971, when he interviewed Richard Nixon after the resignation, he wasn't just a reporter speaking to Nixon, he was the first reporter to speak to Nixon.

When I was coming into sports writing, Hack was on his way out. By then, he had written so many columns, he had it down cold. Sometimes he'd get to his desk early, write his weekly allotment of columns, drop them in a pile on the editor's desk and announce, "Fellers, I'll be fishing at Strawberry."

Yes, he was my idol.

I wound up taking over Hack's sports column for a time after he left. But I never did replace him. I never made a hole in one and won a Ferrari, for one thing, or introduced a Hall of Fame golfer to my church, or interviewed a fallen president for the first time, or led the Utes to victory and then wrote the story. I never interviewed myself.

Like most journalists I know, I have never been the event, just a guy covering it.

I have never been Hack Miller, in other words, and never expect to be. His was a life bigger than life. The stories are legendary, and now, on the occasion of his passing, so is he.

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