All We Know About Sam Mills
About Sam Mills
Sam Mills was born in the New Jersey town of Neptune. He used to go along with his elder brother and play pickup football games with the bigger lads when he was growing up in Long Branch, New Jersey. Mills attended Long Branch High School, where he excelled as a football player and wrestler. Mills won District Championships as a wrestler at Long Branch in 1976 and 1977.
Long Branch High School still commemorates him by displaying both his high school and NFL jerseys in the school gym. Despite being a strong athlete in high school, Mills’ 5’9″ physique did not pique the curiosity of college scouts. Mills was just 5’9 3/4, but because he was so near to 5’10, he went with that height.
Mills signed as an undrafted free agent with the Cleveland Browns in 1981 but was dismissed after the preseason. He wore number 41, one of just two occasions when he did not wear number 51, the other being with the Stars. Mills signed with the Canadian Football League’s Toronto Argonauts in 1982 but was released before the season began.
After the Stars won the USFL championship in 1985, their head coach, Jim Mora, was hired by the New Orleans Saints, and Mills followed in his footsteps. Mills was a defensive anchor with the Saints beginning in 1986. He was a part of the legendary “Dome Patrol,” the great linebacking corps that spearheaded the Saints’ defense in the early 1990s. Mills was selected to four Pro Bowls with the Saints in 1987, 1988, 1991, and 1992. Mora, who coached in the NFL for 15 years, termed Mills “the finest player I ever coached.”
Mills has 1,319 tackles, 20.5 sacks, 11 interceptions, and four touchdowns in 12 seasons in the NFL, starting 173 of 181 games. Mills was a three-time All-Pro selection in the NFL, in 1991, 1992, and 1996. He was inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 2001, the New Jersey Sports Hall of Fame in 2003, and the New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame in 2007. (1998). Mills was inducted into the Carolina Panthers Hall of Honor after retiring from football. He joined the Panthers as a defensive coaching assistant in 1998 before being elevated to linebackers coach in 1999.
Mills established himself as a seasoned leader for the new squad, being the only player to start every game for the Panthers throughout their first three seasons. Mills intercepted a Bubby Brister shovel ball and returned it 36 yards for a touchdown in a 1995 game against the New York Jets, giving the Panthers their first win in team history. His career resurgence included a fifth Pro Bowl participation in 1996 at the age of 37, making him the oldest defender to be invited to a Pro Bowl at the time. He announced his retirement after the following season.
Mills was diagnosed with colon cancer in August 2003. Despite being informed he only had a few months to live, he endured chemotherapy and radiation while continuing to coach. He was a driving element in the Panthers’ playoff run to Super Bowl XXXVIII. In an impassioned statement before the Panthers’ triumph over the Dallas Cowboys, he urged the players to “keep hammering,” which became the name of a cancer research fund and an official club slogan. He coached the club for the whole 2004 season, but Mills died on April 18, 2005, at his home in Charlotte, North Carolina, following a nearly two-year battle with cancer.
The Panthers retired Mills’ jersey number 51 at the commencement of the 2005 NFL season, marking it the franchise’s first number to be retired. In 2009, Mills was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, and his son Sam Mills III accepted the honor on his father’s behalf. Sam Mills III is the defensive line coach for the Washington Football Team right now.
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The speech inspired Nike, when awarded the contract for NFL jerseys starting in the 2012 NFL season, to feature “Keep Pounding” sewn on the inside collars of Panthers jerseys for the 2012 NFL season, in honor of the elder Mills. Also, before the start of every home game, the Panthers have an honorary drummer bang a “Keep Pounding” drum. Though Carolina was not the designated home team for Super Bowl 50, the tradition remained a part of the game, with the drummer being Panther fan and Charlotte native Stephen Curry, the star point guard for the 3x NBA champion Golden State Warriors.
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