Sam Mills

Class of 2022



Pro Bowls




"Keep Pounding."

“This is the final milestone,” Melanie Mills said. “We’ve done it.” 

Enshrinement Speech

Career Highlights

Told time and again he was too small to play professional football, Sam Mills kept pounding on the door until it finally opened. That “Keep Pounding” mantra lives on with the Carolina Panthers.

Undrafted despite earning Division III All-American honors at Montclair (N.J.) State, where he still holds the team record for career tackles 40 years after graduating, Mills signed a free agent contract with the Cleveland Browns in 1981. He was cut in the preseason. He met the same fate with the Toronto Argonauts in the Canadian Football League. The coaches’ consensus: His was too short, at 5-foot-9 3/4, to take on NFL linemen and running backs. 

A new league gave the diminutive Mills his big break. In 1983, Mills joined the Philadelphia Stars of the United States Football League. In the league’s three seasons, Mills made 592 tackles, earning All-USFL honors three times and helping the Stars win back-to-back championships in 1984 and 1985 under Coach Jim Mora.

When the USFL folded after the 1985 season, Mora landed in New Orleans. He brought his middle linebacker with him, launching a 12-year NFL career that saw Mills play 181 career games (173 starts) and total more than 1,300 tackles, 20.5 sacks, 11 interceptions and 22 forced fumbles. He was named to five Pro Bowls and once as first team All-Pro.

After nine years in New Orleans, Mills jumped to the expansion Carolina Panthers. He scored the key touchdown in the franchise’s first victory, 26-15 over the New York Jets, with a 36-yard interception return. In his three seasons with the Panthers, Mills started all 48 regular-season games and both games in the 1996 postseason, when the upstart second-year team reached the NFC Championship Game, falling to eventual Super Bowl winner Green Bay.

Following his playing career, Mills stayed with Carolina as an assistant coach. In his fifth season, 2003, he was diagnosed with cancer and given three months to live. As the Panthers prepared for the playoffs, he delivered an emotional speech, telling the team: “When I found out I had cancer, there were two things I could do: quit or keep pounding. I'm a fighter. I kept pounding. You're fighters, too. Keep pounding!” Mills would live 17 months longer than doctors predicted, dying in April 2005 at age 45.

Banging a huge “Keep Pounding” drum remains a tradition at Panthers games.

        Interceptions Sacks
Year Team G No. Yds. Avg. TD No.
1986 New Orleans 16
1987 New Orleans 12
1988 New Orleans 16
1989 New Orleans 16 3.0
1990 New Orleans 16 0.5
1991 New Orleans 16 2 13 6.5 0 1.0
1992 New Orleans 16 1 10 10.0 0 3.0
1993 New Orleans 9 2.0
1994 New Orleans 16 1 10 10.0 0 1.0
1995 Carolina 16 5 58 11.6 1 4.5
1996 Carolina 16 1 10 10.0 0 5.5
1997 Carolina 16 1 18 18.0 0 0.0
Career Total 181 11 119 10.8 1 20.5

                                         Additional Career Statistics: Kickoff Returns: 2-12; Fumble
                                         recoveries for TD: 3
Championship Games

1996 NFC – Green Bay Packers 30, Carolina Panthers 13
Mills started at left inside linebacker. He led the team with five tackles and nine assists. He also had one interception for 10 yards and one pass defensed.
All-League Teams

All-Pro: 1991 (PFWA, SN, PW)  ·  1992 (PFWA, SN)  ·  1996 (AP, PFWA)

All-Pro Second Team: 1991 (AP, NEA)  ·  1992 (AP)

All-NFC: 1991 (PW)  ·  1992 (UPI, PW)  ·  1996 (UPI, PW)

All-NFC-Second Team: 1995 (UPI)


Pro Bowls

(5) – 1988, 1989, 1992, 1993, 1997

Team Records

Saints’ records held by Mills
            (Records through the 1994 season, Mills’ final season with New Orleans)

  • [Tied for 1st] Most Fumbles Recovered for TD, Career – 2
  • [2nd] Most Opponents Fumbles Recovered, Career – 17
  • [3rd] Longest Fumble Return – 76td (at N.Y. Jets, Dec. 26, 1992)
  • [5th] Most Consecutive Games, Career – 92 (1987-1993)

Panthers’ records held by Mills
            (Records through the 1997 season, Mills’ final season with Carolina)

  • [1st] Most Forced Fumbles, Career – 7
  • [1st] Most Forced Fumbles, Season – 6 (1995)
  • [1st] Most Own or Opponents Fumbles Recovered, Career – 6
  • [1st] Most Own or Opponents Fumbles Recovered, Season – 4 (1995)
  • [1st] Most Tackles, Career – 385
  • [Tied for 1st] Most Opponents Fumbles Recovered, Game – 2 (at San Francisco, Nov. 5, 1995)
  • [Tied for 1st] Most Fumbles Recovered for TD, Career – 1
  • [Tied for 1st] Most Fumbles Recovered for TD, Season – 1 (1995)
  • [Tied for 1st] Most Fumbles Recovered for TD, Game – 1 (vs. N.Y. Jets, Oct. 15, 1995)
  • [Tied for 1st] Most Own or Opponents Fumbles Recovered, Season – 4 (1995)
  • [Tied for 1st] Most Own or Opponents Fumbles Recovered, Game – 2 (at San Francisco, Nov. 5, 1995)
  • [Tied for 1st] Most Forced Fumbles, Game – 2 (at New England, Oct. 29, 1995)
  • [Tied for 1st] Most Fumble Returns for Touchdown, Career – 1
  • [Tied for 1st] Most Fumble Returns for Touchdown, Game – 1 (1996)
  • [2nd] Most Own or Opponents Fumbles Recovered, Career – 6
  • [2nd] Longest Fumble Return – 41td (at Houston, Nov. 24, 1996)
  • [2nd] Most Tackles, Career – 138 (1996)
  • [Tied for 2nd] Most Tackles, Game – 14 (vs. St. Louis, Dec. 20, 1997)
  • [3rd] Most Tackles, Career – 130 (1995)
  • [3rd] Most Sacks, Career – 10.0
League/Team Statistical Titles

Team Statistical Championships   
            Tackle Titles: 1995, 1996
Year-by-Year Team Records
1986     New Orleans Saints............. 7-9-0   (4th)
1987     New Orleans Saints.......... 12-3-0   (2nd)
1988     New Orleans Saints............ 10-6-0   (3rd)
1989     New Orleans Saints............. 9-7-0   (3rd)
1990     New Orleans Saints............ 8-8-0   (2nd)
1991     New Orleans Saints.......... 11-5-0   (1st)
1992     New Orleans Saints.......... 12-4-0   (2nd)
1993     New Orleans Saints............. 8-8-0   (2nd)
1994     New Orleans Saints............. 7-9-0   (2nd)
1995     Carolina Panthers................ 7-9-0   (4th)
1996     Carolina Panthers............. 12-4-0   (1st)
1997     Carolina Panthers................ 7-9-0   (2nd)

(Division Finish in Parentheses)
Qualified for Postseason in Bold
Full Name: Samuel Davis Mills, Jr.
Birthdate: June 3, 1959
Birthplace: Neptune, New Jersey
Died: April 18, 2005
High School: Long Branch (NJ)
Pro Career: 12 seasons, 181 games
MELANIE MILLS: Thank you everyone. You've already heard a lot of statistics, but today I want to talk to you about the humanity of one man.

On the surface, the Sam Mills story is a story of a man who was told that he wasn't good enough — good enough to play college football. Or that he wasn't big enough to play professional football. And at the age of 27, he wasn't young enough for the NFL.

And yet, here we are today celebrating him. That's because Sam worked harder than his peers. He took advantage of every opportunity. He became a legendary athlete. But he never forgot he was just a man.

Sam treated everyone with the respect and dignity they deserved. He visited his mother and siblings in New Jersey as often as he could. He kept his friends from high school and college. He made new friends at his cancer treatments. He talked to everyone, and I mean everyone. He told dad jokes and loved childish pranks.

I don't recall him ever saying no to an autograph, a picture or a handshake. He knew the staff at the practice facilities and the stadiums. He would sneak away and visit people that he barely knew in the hospital.

He made it to his kids' high school football games, track meets and band competitions. He would go bowling with anyone who asked. He would ask about your day, and he would listen because he cared.

From the Philadelphia Stars to the New Orleans Saints to the Carolina Panthers, if you were working hard at anything, Sam would let you know he appreciated your hard work.

You could be a teammate, a coach, a ball boy, a security guard, he would make you feel seen. It's no wonder that Sam inspired so many people or that the Panthers adopted his motto, “Keep Pounding.”

Sam was always ready to show you what hard work looked like. He led by example and people followed. He was more than just a great football player: He was a father, a friend, a husband and a leader who always kept pounding, no matter what the odds were.

So thank you for this honor, for believing in Sam and for helping to keep his story alive. Keep pounding, everyone. That's what Sam would want you to do.