Feature Story: Sam Mills

You always hear underdog stories about a certain team. But players too have underdog stories. Having all the odds stacked against them and overcoming those odds. That is just what this man did. A man who was a mouse amongst elephants. A man who stood just 5’9. A man by the name of Sam Mills. Coming out of small time DIII Montclair State he didn’t get many NFL chances. 

He signed with the Browns in 1981, but was cut before the season. He then tried to make a roster spot on the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL in 1982, again was cut. In 1983 he got his first shot, when he signed with the Philadelphia Stars of the USFL. Mills would go on to be one of the best to play in the USFL. During his time in the USFL he would earn multiple All-USFL honors and also in 1985 would win a championship with the Stars, but the league folded shortly after the championship game and yet again Sam Mills was looking for another opportunity to play elsewhere. 

In 1986, he got his first real NFL opportunity when the Saints signed him whose coach, Jim Mora, just so happened to have coached him previously in the USFL. One year later Sam would become part of the greatest LB core in NFL history, The Dome Patrol. Sam Mills, Rickey Jackson, Pat Swilling, and another former USFL LB Vaughan Johnson were the dominant Dome Patrol.

In 1992, Sam was a part of history yet again when all 4 members of the Dome Patrol made it to the Pro Bowl which had never been done before and still has not been  done again. After the 1992 season Sam Mills watched his fellow Dome Patrol members leave for other teams. 1994 would be Sam Mills final season as a New Orleans Saints linebacker.  One year later, Sam Mills signed with an expansion team called the Carolina Panthers. He was the only player on the team to start every game during the Panthers’ first 3 seasons. In 1996, at age 37, Sam Mills made his 5th Pro Bowl, he retired the following season and then became the Carolina Panthers Linebackers coach. 

In 2003, Sam Mills faced his toughest opponent yet, intestinal cancer. After being diagnosed he delivered a speech to the team, “I can quit or I can Keep Pounding”. In 2003, Sam Mills coached in his first ever Super Bowl, but the Panthers would go on to lose to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. 

In 2005,  just two years after coaching in his first ever Super Bowl, Sam Mills lost his battle with cancer. His “Keep Pounding” motto is still used by the Panthers today and is sewn into the back of the Panthers’ jersey collars. The Panthers even have a bronze statue of Mills outside of their stadium. A man who was once deemed too small left a big legacy. Jim Mora still to this day says that Sam Mills was the best player he ever coached.

Sam Mills’ stats, in my opinion, prove he should be in the Hall Of Fame. Tallying over 1300 tackles, averaging 20.5 sacks, and 11 total interceptions. In NFL Network’s A Football Life the late great Kevin Greene was quoted in saying “He’s someone that should’ve gotten in even before me”. Sam Mills has been a semifinalist for the Hall Of Fame for years and still has not gotten in. At the moment he is a semifinalist yet again, but will he finally be inducted into Canton? We shall see very soon.

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