True to his inspirational words, Sam Mills kept pounding throughout his NFL career, and in February, it finally paid off for the Montclair State University great.
Mills will be enshrined posthumously into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2022, on Saturday, August 6 at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio. Mills was in his 20th year of eligibility, his third as a finalist.
Mills, who died in April 2005 at 45 after a 20-month battle with cancer, was a Division III standout at Montclair from 1977-80. His 501 career tackles set a school record, 142 tackles as a sophomore the school’s single-season mark, and his 22-tackle performance as a junior established a single-game record.
His No. 62 was retired by Montclair in 1981, one of only two numbers in program history to be retired. Mills was inducted as a member of the University’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 1992.
Deemed “too small” to play linebacker for the pros, the 5-foot, 9-inch Mills went on to an outstanding career that began in the now-defunct USFL with the Philadelphia Stars before moving to the NFL, where he became an All-Pro with the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers.
“I think people gravitated to him because of his path to get to the NFL,” his son, Sam Mills III, told Montclair magazine in 2014. “And he never forgot that journey. That journey helped make him who he was.”
In 1997, Mills finished his Carolina playing career, having not missed a start in 50 games, including the playoffs, and leading the team in tackles two of his three seasons. His Panthers career was distinguished by two of the biggest plays in team history.
In total, 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.
After his playing career, Mills became an assistant coach with the Panthers and was diagnosed with cancer in 2003. Although told he had only a few months to live, he continued to coach. In the Panthers’ postseason run to Super Bowl XXXVIII, his plea to “Keep Pounding” in an emotional speech before the Panthers’ victory over the Dallas Cowboys became an official team slogan and the name of a fund supporting cancer research.