No Carolina Panthers player will ever wear No. 51 again to honor a man who exemplified everything a professional athlete is supposed to be. I'm sure you know a good bit about Sam Mills the professional football player, but let start with how he got his start.
Sam Mills is from New Jersey and was a standout wrestler in high school in addition to a stand out football player.
Sam Mills was born in Neptune City, New Jersey. While growing up in Long Branch, New Jersey, he loved to tag along with his older brother and play pickup football games with the bigger boys. Mills attended high school at Long Branch High School, where he was a standout football player and wrestler. In 1976 and 1977, Mills won District Championships at Long Branch as a wrestler. Long Branch High School honors him to this day by hanging his high school jersey and his NFL jersey in the school gym. Although considered a great athlete in high school, Mills' 5'9″ frame did not interest college scouts.
Mills played college ball at a small school in New Jersey and of course set records.
Mills attended college at Montclair State College (now known as Montclair State University) and made the football squad as a walk-on. Mills played for Montclair State from 1977-1980 where he is the all-time leader in career tackles with 501, tackles in a season (142), and tackles in a game (22). He was a three-time NJAC First Team All-Star and was named the New Jersey Collegiate Writers Defensive Player of the Year for three straight seasons (1978-1980). Sam Mills was an all-time great player as a linebacker while at Montclair State University.
Mills went undrafted because NFL scouts thought at 5 feet 9 inches tall and 225 pounds he was too small. So he cut his teeth in the CFL before finally getting his big chance.
After the Stars won the 1985 USFL title, their head coach Jim Mora was signed on to coach the New Orleans Saints, and Mills followed his mentor. During his tenure with the Saints, starting in 1986, 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. Mora, who coached 15 seasons in the NFL, called Mills “The best player I ever coached”.
The rest is history, including his inspirational time in Carolina as a player and then coach. Mills battled cancer during the Panthers 2003 Super Bowl run.
Mills had been the Panthers' linebackers coach since 1999, under George Seifert and the current head coach, John Fox. He was found to have intestinal cancer during training camp in August 2003. Although he missed time undergoing treatment, he remained as a coach and helped the Panthers reach the Super Bowl that season.
This post would not be complete without a highlight video.
I would be remiss to not mention he is the inspiration behind the traditional pounding of the drum:
For more on Sam Mills, you can watch the excellent documentary Sam Mills: A Football Life at this link.
51 days to go… Keep Pounding!