By: Terrill J. Weil
Da Boot Sports!
Sam Mills was diagnosed with intestinal cancer in 2003. He continued to coach while undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments even though he was given only a few months to live. He was a huge inspiration to the Carolina Panthers’ run to Super Bowl XXXVIII... His emotional "Keep Pounding" speech has become the Panthers' Team Slogan. Mills battled cancer for almost two more years before passing away in his home in Charlotte, NC. on April 8th, 2005.
Mills was born and raised in New Jersey. He attended high school at Long Branch HS where he was a standout football player and a District Champion in Wrestling. Mills was a great athlete but didn't draw interest from any college scouts due to his 5'9" size. Long Branch High School honors Mills by hanging his high school jersey and his NFL jersey in the school gym.
Sam would make the football team at Montclair State as a walk-on where he played from 1977-1980, becoming the school's all-time leader in total tackles with 501.
In 1981 Mills signed with the Cleveland Browns as a free agent but was released before the start of the regular season. Then in 1982 he signed with the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL but was released at preseason's end.
Mills would then find another opportunity to shine signing with Jim Mora's Philadelphia Stars of the USFL in 1983. Mills exploded onto the scene with his new ball club. Because of his 5'9" size, he was nicknamed "Field Mouse" for his quickness and speed. He became the leader of the Stars' feared "Doghouse Defense". He would go on to help the Stars win two of the three USFL Championship games, as well as being named to all three All-USFL teams and was voted to the USFL's All-Time Team.
After the USFL folded, Mills would follow Jim Mora to New Orleans to become a Saint. He would immediately step in as a starter for Mora and the Saints becoming a member of the dominating "Dome Patrol".. as he became a key part of helping the franchise have its first ever winning season. Mills would make the Pro Bowl four times while playing in New Orleans.
In 1995 Mills would sign with the expansion Carolina Panthers and become the leader of their defense, as he would be the only player to start every game during the Panthers' first three seasons. In 1996 he would again be voted to the Pro Bowl at the age of 37. He would retire after the 1997 season then become the teams linebackers coach.
Mills played 12 seasons in the NFL, recording 1,319 tackles, 20.5 sacks, 11 interceptions and four touchdowns while starting 173 of 181 games. He is a member of the Carolina Panthers Hall of Honor, Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, Sports Hall of Fame of New Jersey, College Football Hall of Fame, and New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame. In 2005 the Carolina Panthers retired his #51 jersey making it the first number ever retired in the history of the franchise, as well as dedicate a statue of him outside of their stadium in honor of his remarkable career and spirit. Jim Mora would go on to say that Sam Mills was the best player he ever coached.