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.
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.
(pictured during his
coaching days with the
NFL's Carolina Panthers)
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