Former Panther Sam Mills among those inducted into NFL Hall of Fame

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 7, 2022

Associated Press

CANTON, Ohio — Perhaps the late Sam Mills would have been a blue-chip college recruit and high NFL draft pick had someone invented — as the 5-foot-9 linebacker memorably suggested — “a computer to measure heart.”

Mills played Division III college football and was not drafted. That made his rise to stardom with the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers — and his enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday — all the more remarkable.

He had the will to “keep pounding,” as he’d famously say. It made him an inspiration to people facing long odds in many aspects of life, whether they were undersized football prospects or cancer patients.

“I get emotional talking about him and I always have, because the darn guy was special,” said Jim Mora, who coached Mills in the USFL with the Philadelphia and Baltimore Stars, and then with the Saints. “I loved the guy.”

Mills joined others inducted Saturday, such as Tony Boselli, who became the Jacksonville Jaguars’ first player in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Boselli, the first pick in Jaguars history, and Mills were among eight members of the Class of 2022 enshrined Saturday. “I thank God for football and I thank God for the people of Jacksonville,” Boselli said.

The Jaguars played the Las Vegas Raiders in the NFL preseason opener Thursday night, so No. 71 Boselli jerseys filled the seats.

A five-time Pro Bowl selection and three-time All-Pro left tackle in seven seasons in Jacksonville, Boselli saw his career cut short by injuries.

Defensive back LeRoy Butler, defensive linemen Bryant Young and Richard Seymour, wide receiver Cliff Branch, coach Dick Vermeil and longtime head of officiating Art McNally joined a class of guys who waited several years — some decades — to get the call.

Young delivered the most emotional speech when he broke down honoring his son, Colby, who died of pediatric cancer at age 15 in 2016.

“We assured Colby we would keep his memory alive and we would continue speaking his name,” Young said. “Colby, you live long in our hearts.”

Young, who excelled at defensive tackle in an era filled with talented players at the position, had 891/2 sacks and earned four Pro Bowl selections in a 14-year career spent entirely with the San Francisco 49ers.

Vermeil gave the longest speech, blowing past the 8-minute limit by 15. The former Philadelphia Eagles, St. Louis Rams and Kansas City Chiefs coach seemed to thank everyone who helped him reach the stage.

He credited players for his success and specifically pointed out fellow Hall of Famers Kurt Warner and Isaac Bruce, who were on Vermeil’s “Greatest Show on Turf” Super Bowl championship team in St. Louis.

“Gosh darn, I just wish I had time to go through everyone,” Vermeil said. And then he did, anyway.

Butler drew cheers from Jaguars fans in attendance to see Boselli’s induction when he mentioned growing up in Jacksonville. “Thank you, Duval,” Butler said. “My mom, growing up in poverty, she made us think rich every day because it’s not about what you have on or what you have, it’s how you act.”

Butler helped restore Green Bay’s glory days during a 12-year career. He originated the “Lambeau Leap” and had a key sack in Green Bay’s Super Bowl victory over New England.

Mills, who had a 12-year career, and Branch were inducted posthumously. Mills was cut by the Cleveland Browns and Toronto Argonauts of the CFL and began his professional career with the USFL’s Philadelphia Stars. Mora, who coached the Stars, brought him to New Orleans in 1986 and Mills never looked back.

“He was told he wasn’t good enough to play college football or big enough to play professional football and at the age of 27, he wasn’t young enough to play in the NFL and yet here we are today celebrating,” said Melanie Mills, Sam’s widow.

Mills became an assistant coach with the Panthers after his retirement. He was diagnosed with intestinal cancer before the 2003 season but kept coaching during his treatment and made what is known as his “Keep pounding” speech on the eve of the club’s Super Bowl matchup with New England. He died in April 2005 at age 45. His “Keep pounding” remains the Panthers’ tag line.

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