Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in The Montclarion
A lot of different emotions were felt at the Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio. Excitement. Sadness. But most importantly, there was a huge weight lifted off the shoulders of the family of legendary linebacker and former Montclair State University football player Sam Mills, who finally got the ultimate moment in the world of football.
Mills was enshrined into the Class of 2022 of the Pro Football Hall of Fame alongside former Jacksonville Jaguars tackle Tony Boselli, Oakland Raiders wide receiver Cliff Branch, Green Bay Packers safety LeRoy Butler, official Art McNally, New England Patriots defensive end Richard Seymour, Philadelphia Eagles coach Dick Vermeil and San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Bryant Young.
Sam Mills’ wife Melanie Mills was introduced on stage to a quick embrace from his former coach on the Philadelphia Stars and the New Orleans Saints, Jim Mora, who acknowledged Sam Mills as one of the best players he ever coached. And he’s coached Peyton Manning.
Mora hounded down on the perception that Sam Mills was too short to be a linebacker in football and gave an anecdote on how he beat that judgment.
“There’s a saying in football that the low man wins,” Mora said. “That means if I’m blocking you, whoever has leverage on the other end is probably going to win that one-on-one battle. Sam had that leverage naturally because he was shorter than most of the linebackers. He was strong and he was a dedicated player.”
Melanie Mills was presented by Mora with Sam Mill’s head bust, which was crafted beautifully, and she then gave a short but sweet speech about her late husband.
“If you were working hard at anything, Sam [Mills] would let you know he would appreciate your hard work,” Melanie Mills said. “He would make you feel seen. It’s no wonder Sam inspired so many people, and the [Carolina] Panthers adopted his motto ‘Keep Pounding’. He was more than just a good football player, he was a great father, friend and husband.”
Melanie Mills ended her speech with an appreciation for the vast amount of football fans and media in the crowd, including the Red Hawk Sports Network. And gave everyone the aforementioned motto Sam Mills is so widely known for in Carolina and amongst our very own Red Hawks.
“Thank you for believing in Sam [Mills] and keeping his story alive,” Melanie Mills said. “Keep pounding everyone. That is what Sam would want you to do.”
NBC Sports NFL writer Peter King, one of the members who picks the next legendary class of players and coaches for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, knew that a certain part of Sam Mills’ career would help his case compared to the rest of the potential candidates.
“One of the things I have always said about Sam Mills is that it’s called the Pro Football Hall of Fame for a reason,” King said. “His three years in the [United State Football League (USFL)]. While certainly not the only reason you get into the hall of fame, [Sam] Mills was the best all-around defensive player in the USFL, right along with [Carolina Panthers defensive end] Reggie White, in the league’s three-year history. He was a real big impact player.”
Sam Mills also left an impact during his time playing for Montclair State from 1977 to 1980. He was a three-time NJ Collegiate Football Writers Defensive Player of the Year, and was also named to the New Jersey Athletic Conference All-Star Team for all four years with the university. He also set two records; the most tackles in a game and a career.
One of Sam Mills’ assistant coaches at that time was the current head coach of the Red Hawks, Rick Giancola. In his four-decade-plus tenure as head coach, and even longer overall as a coach, “Coach G” recognized how different of a player Sam Mills was.
“We were very fortunate to get him to come here,” Giancola said. “There was a situation that scared us a little bit because his high school football coach Frank Glazier left Long Branch High School and took the job at William Paterson [University]. That scared us a little bit because [Glazier] and Sam [Mills] had a pretty good relationship. And when head coach [Fred] Hill spoke to him about that, Sam [Mills] said to Coach Hill, ‘I give you my hand.’ They shook hands. And Sam [Mills] was committed to Montclair State. That’s the kind of young man he was; a young man of character, he was upfront and honest.”
Giancola said this strong character never left Sam Mills during his time at Montclair State.
“He was always doing what he was asked to do,” Giancola said. “But more than that, he was always willing to help people. And he played with the gusto and the challenge of a young man who loved football, and that’s the way he played. If you saw him off the field, you would say, ‘Boy, he’s a football player.’”
He was a football player. But on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022, one can officially say that Sam Mills, former Montclair State linebacker, is one of the greatest football players to ever grace the field. And even at five foot nine, the Field Mouse can now look over the historic land of Canton, Ohio as a legend. But most importantly, a great man.
Story written by Matt Orth, Montclarion sports editor.