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Matthew Millen impressive with his honesty in assessing his father's situation in Detroit

Matthew Millen, though, said he had a new-found respect for his father after watching his grace in dealing with the Detroit debacle.

Keith Groller

9:33 PM EDT, October 9, 2013

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Matthew Millen could have followed his father's path to the broadcast booth.

That's the impression I got from watching "A Football Life: Matt Millen" on the NFL Network. The hour-long documentary debuted on Tuesday night and will be shown many times again.

There were dozens of interviews for this well-done retrospective on the life and times of the former Whitehall High and Penn State standout who would go on to win four Super Bowl titles in the NFL, and then make his mark in the broadcast booth before running the Detroit Lions for seven-plus seasons that produced a 31-84 record.

Ronnie Lott, Steve Young, Darrell Green, Joe Gibbs, Tom Flores and Howie Long were among the many familiar faces who appeared in snippets during the broadcast. But none were more impressive than Matthew, a 2001 Bethlehem Catholic graduate who is now a pastor and a lawyer.

It was Matt and Pat Millen's eldest son who offered perhaps the most profound moment of "A Football Life" when he admitted he was angry at his father at the 2005 NFL Draft. It was a refreshingly forthright and candid moment; the kind of comment his father was known to make in NFL broadcast booths.

The younger Millen's comments came in the sad segment of the Millen saga, the portion that covered his career in Detroit.

For those who have long admired Millen as a player, broadcaster, and family man, that was the one part of "A Football Life" that was difficult to watch.

Former Packers GM Ron Wolf was asked what went wrong for Millen in Motown.

"This is going to sound very simple, but he didn't pick the right players," Wolf said.

The narrator chimed in with: "During his tenure in Detroit, Millen drafted 61 players and only three — Shaun Rogers, Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson — made it to a Pro Bowl."

As it turned out, even Matthew didn't agree with his father's choices.

"From 2002 through 2008, I was in all of the draft rooms and the Mike Williams draft, I got really mad at him because we had talked all up to that point about, 'DeMarcus Ware is a stud. He's going to be a great pass rusher, he would fit our scheme, and he'd be the guy that I'd take,' Matthew Millen said.

"It gets to pick 10, and there's DeMarcus Ware. So I'm thinking, 'All right, we got our guy.' And then all of a sudden, there's chatter from some other people in the room that, 'You know what, if we got this wide receiver and paired him with Roy Williams and some of the other weapons we have, we'd be a really potent offense.' And I can see his mind starting to change."

Mike Williams was the third consecutive wide receiver taken by the Lions and lasted just two years with the team. The Cowboys took Ware with the next pick.

"Are you kidding me?" Matthew Millen said. "I'm like, 'Great, the buffoon just picked another wide receiver.' That's what everyone's going to think."

Millen said his father's downfall with those picks was that he didn't stick to his guns.

"I'm not making excuses for him because those picks were his picks," Matthew said.

Those comments were followed by a montage from others saying that Millen didn't build a team in his own tough-guy image or that he was too much of a team player and let others get too involved in the decision-making process.

Ultimately, Millen, though he said he never ever thought about quitting, said the job in Detroit wasn't what he thought it would be.

"I was more than a general manager; I was the president and CEO of the place and I guess what surprised me the most was how little football I was involved with," he said in another of the documentary's most revealing moments.

"Like I'm reading on family law. What do I care about family law? You have only so many days you can take when you're pregnant. I don't care. Take them. All I want to do is win."

After the documentary, Millen's sons, Marcus, now a captain in the U.S. Army, and Matthew joined their father on the NFL Network's L.A. set for "A Football Life: Backstory."

It was noted how the whole Millen family got through the entire Detroit debacle with a sense of humor. There was even a nugget about how Millen came home from Detroit for Christmas and was told to look up at his tree and there was a angel with a "Fire Millen" sign amid the decorations.

It drew laughs, but at the same time, the failure had to take a toll on a guy who had encountered nothing but success almost his entire life and also a proud family, rooted in faith, that had to deal with criticism of the most vicious kind.

Leave it to Matthew to find a silver lining.

"I finally saw my father fail at something," he said. "For my entire life, that had never been the case. And to see how he handled that was something that gave me even more respect for him. He handled that even more gracefully than winning."

LOCAL NOTE

PBS39 will have a repeat showing of its Emmy-nominated documentary "Football Legends of Pennsylvania" at 9 p.m. Sunday. The documentary is based on the critically acclaimed book written by local sports historian Evan Burian and features interviews with Chuck Bednarik, Andre Reed and other Keystone State football legends.

Speaking of Bednarik, my apologies for messing up the name of Bednarik's son-in-law Ken Safarowic in a column earlier this week. Ken was even gracious enough to come on our "Calling All Sports" TV show a few years and I still botched the name.

KEITH'S CAN'T MISS … Matt Millen returns to Happy Valley on Saturday and will work the ESPN broadcast of the Michigan-Penn State game at 5 p.m.