Despite being a tenacious linebacker out of Montclair State University, Sam Mills wasn't given much of a look by the NFL.  The Cleveland Browns signed him in 1981, but cut him two weeks before the start of the season.  The CFL rejected him as well, releasing him in early 1982.  He was seen as "too small."  Seeing a new opportunity to play football, Mills was among the first players to join the USFL, signing the line with the Philadelphia Stars on October 21, 1982.

There he played an instrumental role in the Stars "Doghouse" defense, showing astounding speed and tenacity and earning the nickname "The Field Mouse."  Mills made a significant contribution to the Stars defense, helping the team win USFL championships in 1984 and 1985.  Though not a big sack producer during his USFL days (14 in three years), his team mentality, talent and desire didn't go unnoticed by the NFL the second time around.

The end of the USFL didn't mean the end of Mills' playing career, but merely the closing of its first chapter.  Stars head coach Jim Mora, hired by the New Orleans Saints, arranged for Mills to join him in the Crescent City.  There, as well as in Charlotte with the expansion Carolina Panthers, Mills built credentials that will undoubtedly put him in Pro Football's Hall of Fame someday, including five trips to the NFL's Pro Bowl (in 1987-88, 1991-92, and in 1996).  Retiring at the age of 38, Mills stayed with the Panthers organization for the remainder of his life as a coach, and is presently the only player in the team's Hall of Honor.

Diagnosed with intestinal cancer in 2003 and told he had months to live, Mills continued to coach while undergoing intensive chemotherapy and radiation treatments.  Tenacious to the end, Mills fight for life extended far beyond his doctors' prediction, but the end finally did come on April 18, 2005.  Mills was just 45 years old.  Both the Saints and Panthers retired Mills' number (51) during the 2005 season, and Montclair State honored their alumnus by renaming their football facility Sam Mills Stadium in his honor.  And one can bet that, in time, he'll receive one additional honor - selection into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.


Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars
(pictured during his
coaching days with the
NFL's Carolina Panthers)


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