Sam Mills finally takes his place among the NFL immortals

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

Former Carolina Panthers linebacker and coach Sam Mills will take his place among the NFL immortals after earning selection to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

It’s been a long time coming.

But Sam Mills has finally and deservedly become a Pro Football Hall of Famer.

This was the legendary former Carolina Panthers linebacker’s final year of eligibility as a modern-era candidate. After missing out on countless occasions, voters finally did right by Mills to cement his legacy.

Plenty of players with an association with Carolina has been inducted in the past.

However, this one feels different.

It’s hard to put into words just how much Mills means to everyone associated with the Panthers. A player who gave everything on the field to rise from an undrafted prospect to a place in Canton.

That is just half the story.

Sam Mills has a legacy that lives on within the Carolina Panthers

Mills embodied everything good about the human spirit. Even when he was battling intestinal cancer that eventually cost him his life, he remained resolute and on the sidelines in a coaching role as the Panthers went on a memorable run to the Super Bowl.

Then, of course, there is the Keep Pounding mantra that forms a critical part of the organization’s beliefs and is far bigger than any football game.

The outrage of fans when the Keep Pounding drum vanished before their Week 1 opener was a decision the Panthers quickly went back on. Trying to change certain traditions is one thing, but this crossed the line and is something that Mills began that will live through the ages.

That is how much Mills means to Carolina. The only player to have his jersey number retired so far and the statue outside Bank of America Stadium is a constant reminder to Keep Pounding no matter what.

The outpouring of emotion and adulation from supporters, current and former Panthers players regarding Mills tells its own story. A man who commanded the utmost respect not only on the field and in a coaching capacity, but long after his sad passing.

After being undersized and overlooked before arriving in the NFL, Mills wasted little time in making an impact on the New Orleans Saints, becoming a key cog on their defense before moving to Carolina.

In three seasons with the organization, Mills earned Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors, racking up 10 sacks, 331 tackles, six forced fumbles, and seven interceptions, becoming responsible for some important milestones and memories that will go down in folklore.

Times, traditions, and personnel changes occur constantly where NFL teams are concerned. But there will never be another Mills and the Panthers now have one of their own enshrined for eternity in Canton.

There should be many more to come, obviously. The likes of Steve Smith, Julius Peppers, and Luke Kuechly could all get their own distinctions in the not-too-distant future, but it seems only fitting that Mills was the first after everything he did and still means to the franchise.

It is sure to be a memorable induction ceremony later this year. One that Mills’ family have been eagerly anticipating for some time.

Nobody deserves it more. A constant source of inspiration to this day across the league and for those fighting their own individual battles in day-to-day life.

Keep Pounding is more than a catchy slogan. It’s a way of life.

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It’s a legacy left by Mills, who will now officially take his deserved place among the NFL immortals.