Sam Mills edges closer to the Pro Football Hall of Fame

(Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images) Sam Mills
(Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images) Sam Mills /

Sam Mills has been named as a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The legacy of Sam Mills will live on through the ages as far as the Carolina Panthers are concerned. A legendary linebacker turned coach’s determination and spirit founded the ‘Keep Pounding’ mantra across the organization, and even though he is no longer with us, there is no disputing his importance.

This is something that might soon come with a Pro Football Hall of Fame berth.

Mills was named as one of 15 finalists for NFL immortality on Tuesday evening, which has been a long time coming and would represent some deserved recognition for a man who gave his life to the game.

He faces some tough competition this year, with the likes of Peyton Manning, former Carolina Panthers defensive end Jared Allen, Charles Woodson, and Reggie Wayne also up for selection this year.

Sam Mills left behind an incredible legacy with the Carolina Panthers.

Regardless of whether Mills makes it or not, his status with the Panthers is unquestioned.

One only has to look at the statue outside Bank of America Stadium to see that.

A 12-year veteran, Mills overcame pre-draft projections of being too undersized to carve out an exceptional career that began at the New Orleans Saints and ended in Carolina. Mills finished his career with 1,265 combined tackles, 363 of which were solo. He also managed 20.5 sacks, 22 forced fumbles, and 11 interceptions to further enhance his overall influence at the second level.

This included five Pro Bowl selections – the last of which came in 1996 at aged 37 – with Mills recording 331 tackles, 10 sacks, six forced fumbles, and seven interceptions during his time in a Panthers uniform.

Not too shabby at all for a player listed a 5-foot-9 that was given little hope of forging a successful NFL career.

Once his playing career came to a conclusion, Mills made the transition to a coaching environment seamlessly under both George Seifert and John Fox, tutoring the next bunch of Carolina Panthers linebackers with tremendous success.

Mills’ progress was halted with his intestinal cancer diagnosis, but such was the man’s love for football and the Panthers, he stayed and helped in-between treatments in 2003 that eventually saw Carolina reach a remarkable first-ever Super Bowl.

His condition worsened after the 2004 season, which resulted in his immensely sad passing aged 45 the following year.

Few would argue that Mills is not thoroughly deserving of a place among the league’s greatest.

The lasting impact he made both on-and-off the field won’t be soon forgotten by those who were fortunate enough to watch him on the gridiron and with the “Drop the Hammer on Cancer” and the “Keep Pounding Fund” set-up in his honor, it will ensure others suffering from the same disease might have it a little better in a turbulent time.

Mills was much more than a football player.

He was the embodiment of everything good about the Panthers.

Regardless of whether Mills makes it this year or not, he’ll deservingly be there one day. His story is iconic and inspirational in equal measure and even though there is some stern competition for a place in Canton this year, his place in NFL folklore is secured.