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Sam Mills
Position(s)
Linebacker
Jersey #(s)
51
Born June 3, 1959(1959-06-03)
Neptune, New Jersey
Died April 18, 2005 (aged 45)
Charlotte, North Carolina
Career information
Year(s) 19861997
College Montclair State
Professional teams
Career stats
Sacks 20.5
Int 11
Touchdowns 1
Stats at NFL.com
Career highlights and awards

Samuel Davis "Sam" Mills, Jr. (June 3, 1959 - April 18, 2005) was an American football linebacker who played twelve seasons in the National Football League for the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers.

Contents

Early life

Sam Mills was born in Neptune, New Jersey and attended high school in Long Branch, New Jersey. Mills was a standout football player at Long Branch High School[1][2], which honors him to this day by hanging his high school jersey and his NFL jersey in the school gym.

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USFL

He attended college at Montclair State University. Told he was too small to play in the NFL, he played with the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars of the USFL for three years. During that time (wearing #54), he became known in the league for both his tenacity on the field and his leadership off it. His speed, surprising for a man of his size, earned him the nickname "The Field Mouse." When Stars head coach Jim Mora left the team to coach the NFL's New Orleans Saints, Mills followed his mentor.

NFL

New Orleans Saints

During his tenure with the Saints, Mills was an anchor of the defense. He was a member of the vaunted "Dome Patrol," the stellar linebacking corps that led a ferocious Saints defense in the early 1990s. Mills earned four Pro Bowl appearances with the Saints in 1987, 1988, 1991, and 1992.

Carolina Panthers

Mills became a free agent at the end of the 1994 NFL season, and was signed by the expansion Carolina Panthers. Mills became a veteran leader for the young team, the only player to start every game during the Panthers' first three seasons. An interception in a 1995 season game sealed the Panthers first ever victory in franchise history against the New York Jets. His career rebirth gave him a fifth Pro Bowl appearance in 1996 at the age of 37. After retiring in 1997, Mills stayed with the organization as a linebackers coach.

Sam Mills holds the NFL record for the oldest player to return a fumble for a touchdown (37 years, 174 days).

After football

Mills played 12 seasons in the NFL and recorded 1,319 tackles, 20.5 sacks, 11 interceptions and four touchdowns while starting 173 of 181 games. He is the only player in the Carolina Panthers Hall of Honor. There is also a statue of him outside of Bank Of America stadium in Charlotte. Mills was named to the NFL All-Pro team three times in 1991, 1992, and 1996. He was elected to both the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame (1991) and the Sports Hall of Fame of New Jersey (1993).

Mills was diagnosed with intestinal cancer in August 2003. Though he was told he had only a few months to live, he underwent chemotherapy and radiation and continued to coach. He was an inspirational force in the Panthers’ post-season run to Super Bowl XXXVIII. His plea to "Keep Pounding" in an emotional speech before the Panthers' victory over the Dallas Cowboys later became the name of a fund to sponsor cancer research programs. Mills died at his home in Charlotte, North Carolina on the morning of April 18, 2005. He was 45.

Mills' number 51 was retired by the Panthers and Saints at the start of the 2005 NFL season. The home field of the Montclair State University Red Hawks was named Sam Mills Stadium in his honor. Mills was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2009. His son Sam Mills III holds the position of Quality Control - Defense for the Carolina Panthers.

References

  1. ^ Sam Mills, database Football. Accessed October 25, 2007.
  2. ^ Smith, Timothy W. "Mills at 37: The Little Linebacker Who Could", The New York Times, January 9, 1997. Accessed October 25, 2007. "When Sam Mills was growing up in Long Branch, N.J., he loved to tag along with his older brother and play pickup football games with the bigger boys.... Going back to the Long Branch playgrounds, to Long Branch High School, to Montclair (N.J.) State College, to the Philadelphia Stars of the United States Football League, to the New Orleans Saints to the Panthers, not many people have been able to knock Sam Mills down."

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