Sam Mills’ football immortality goes beyond Hall of Fame enshrinement

(Scott Heckel/The Canton Repository via IMAGN Content Services) Jim Mora and Melanie Mills, wife of the late Sam Mills
(Scott Heckel/The Canton Repository via IMAGN Content Services) Jim Mora and Melanie Mills, wife of the late Sam Mills /

Former Carolina Panthers linebacker and coach Sam Mills’ football immortality goes way beyond his Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement. 

It’s been a long time coming. But few would argue that Sam Mills is not hugely deserving of Pro Football Hall of Fame recognition.

The true rags to riches story surrounding Mills remains an inspiration. His mindset is also something that forms a core component within the Carolina Panthers today.

One could point to Mills rising from a walk-on in college to Canton via the USFL and New Orleans Saints as proof positive that anything can be accomplished. But it was the steely will to remain on Carolina’s coaching staff whilst battling cancer that cemented his legacy – one that will live through the ages.

His speech that gave birth to the Keep Pounding mantra is iconic. One that spurred the Panthers onto a memorable Super Bowl appearance the very same year.

"“When I found out I had cancer, there were two things could do: quit or Keep Pounding. I’m a fighter. I kept pounding. You’re fighters, too. Keep Pounding!”"

Sadly, Mills is not around to see his name added to NFL folklore. He sadly 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 rightfully the first player with a real association with the Panthers who’s made it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There will be others in the not-too-distant future such as Julius Peppers, Steve Smith, and perhaps even Luke Kuechly, but this one means more.

Sam Mills formed the fabric of Carolina Panthers’ football

This is the fabric of Panthers football. A story that’s stood the test of time and is a way of life for many.

One only has to look at Mills’ statue outside Bank of America Stadium as evidence of what can be achieved against the odds. The Montclair State product was a five-time Pro Bowler and earned one All-Pro honor, which was remarkable for someone deemed undersized at a time when giants ruled the league.

As legendary Super Bowl-winning coach Tony Dungy pointed out, teams targeting Mills because of his height soon paid the price. This is another prime example of the esteem in which he was held across the league.

"“I think you have to look at the play, and that can get overlooked. Great tackler, great instincts, hustled to the ball sideline to sidelines. He was a tremendous football player on top of being a great leader and a great person. But you had to fool Sam Mills. You couldn’t just say we’re going to attack him and blow him out of there. You got to take advantage; he knows this, so we’ll get him to overreact. You had to beat him in other ways, not just out-physical him, no way.”"

Getting indicted at the final time of asking was the least Mills deserved. But in truth, his football immortality goes way beyond today’s enshrinement.

Ask Steve Smith. Ask Thomas Davis. Ask Luke Kuechly what Mills means to the Panthers.

They’ll all say the same thing.

The whole weekend has been emotional for those with a deep connection to the franchise. And it’s unlikely that the Panthers would have integrated so smoothly following their expansion without Mills.

What’s important for the organization is preserving this legacy over time. It’s simply too important to dissipate.

Mills did and does mean everything. He was the heart and soul of the Carolinas once upon a time and hopefully, this is a trend that will continue so long as there is Panthers football to cheer every Sunday.

Sam Mills, Pro Football Hall of Famer. And nobody is more deserving.

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