Former Carolina Panthers linebacker and coach Sam Mills’ immortality extends far beyond his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
It was a long time coming. But few would argue that Sam Mills doesn’t quite deserve recognition in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The true rags to riches story surrounding Mills remains an inspiration. His mindset is also something that’s a core component of the Carolina Panthers today.
One could point out that Mills rose from a walk-on in college to the USFL and the New Orleans Saints to Canton as proof that anything can be achieved. But it was a steely will to remain on the Carolina coaching staff while he battled cancer that cemented his legacy – one that will last for centuries.
His speech, which spawned the mantra “Keep Pounding,” is iconic. One that spurred the Panthers to a memorable Super Bowl appearance later that year.
“When I found out I had cancer I had two choices: stop or keep going. I am a fighter. I kept pounding. You are fighters too. Keep pounding!”
Unfortunately, Mills isn’t there to see his name incorporated into NFL folklore. Sadly, he lost his battle with cancer in 2005 and it was up to his widow, Melanie, to receive his Hall of Fame plaque from former head coach Jim Mora at the annual jacket dinner before the official ceremony.
Mills is deservedly the first player with a real connection to the Panthers to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There will be others in the not too distant future like Julius Peppers, Steve Smith and maybe even Luke Kuechly, but this one means more.
Sam Mills shaped the football of the Carolina Panthers
This is the stuff of Panthers football. A story that has stood the test of time and is a way of life for many.
One only has to look at the Mills statue in front of Bank of America Stadium to see what can be achieved against all odds. The Montclair State product was a five-time Pro Bowler and earned an All-Pro honor, which was remarkable for someone considered undersized at a time when giants ruled the league.
As legendary Super Bowl winning coach Tony Dungy pointed out, teams that targeted Mills for his size soon paid the price. This is another prime example of the esteem he was shown in the league.
“I think you have to look at the play and that can be overlooked. Great tackler, great instincts, pushed for the ball, sideline to sideline. He was a great soccer player and also a great leader and a great person. But you had to fool Sam Mills. They couldn’t just say let’s attack him and blow him out of there. You have to take advantage of it; he knows that, so we get him to overreact. You had to hit him in some other way, not just physically, no way.”
Being charged for the last time was the least Mills deserved. But in truth, his football immortality extends well beyond today’s anchoring.
Ask Steve Smith. Ask Thomas Davis. Ask Luke Kuechly what Mills means to the Panthers.
They will all say the same thing.
The whole weekend has been emotional for those with a deep connection to the franchise. And it’s unlikely the Panthers would have integrated so smoothly after their expansion without Mills.
It is important for the organization to preserve this legacy over time. It’s just too important to unravel.
Mills has and means everything. He was once the heart and soul of the Carolinas, and hopefully that trend will continue as long as there’s Panthers football to cheer for every Sunday.
Sam Mills, Pro Football Hall of Fame. And nobody deserves more.