Class of 2022: Sam Mills tackled early doubts, trials to earn spot in Hall of Fame

By Daniel May
Pro Football Hall of Fame

Flying under the radar was the name of the game for Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2022 Enshrinee SAM MILLS.  
Mills, whose potential was overlooked early in his career due to not meeting the stature typical of an NFL linebacker, had brief stints in both the Canadian Football League and the United States Football League before finally getting a chance to play in the NFL for the New Orleans Saints.  
Twelve years after getting that chance, Mills retired with five Pro Bowl appearances and the distinction of being a founding father of the “Dome Patrol”— the legendary linebacker corps of the Saints during the late 1980s and early 1990s.  
Six years after his retirement, Mills’ underdog mentality would return after he was diagnosed with terminal intestinal cancer. Doctors initially only gave him a few months to live, but Mills “kept pounding” and turned those months into two years before his death in April 2005.   
Mills is survived by his son, Sam Mills III — the current defensive line coach for the Washington Commanders, and his wife, Melanie.  
Mills was a finalist for Hall of Fame induction twice before his death. Familiar with being looked over in his life, his wife said Mills never showed disappointment. 
“You could never tell he was disappointed,” Melanie Mills said in an interview with Hall of Fame personnel. “He always had faith.” 
Upon the announcement of his election into the Hall of Fame, Melanie Mills said the Mills family knew this would be the year. 
“I had a feeling that this would be the year. A lot of my family coincidently positioned themselves around Carolina (where Melanie currently lives) for their careers,” she said. “I felt a fire that I hadn’t felt in a while and figured that this would finally be the year.” 
For Melanie and the rest of the family, Sam’s pending enshrinement into the Hall of Fame on Aug. 6 is a dream come true. Melanie said she and Sam discussed it for years and the Enshrinement is the culmination of all of his hard work.  
“This is the final milestone,” Melanie Mills said. “We’ve done it.” 

Daniel May is a student at Buffalo State University and is an intern this summer at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.