Sam Mills Bio: Early Life, Professional Career, NFL & Cancer

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The star, Samuel Davis Mills Jr., was an American football linebacker for the New Orleans Saints and the NFL’s Carolina Panthers.

Sam Mills had an inspiring and tear-jerking story from an aspiring middle linebacker that a single NFL team did not want to hire to the five-time Pro Bowl player.

Mills played for the United States Football League before making his debut in the NFL. He considers himself a fighter who does not give up.

He is someone who “keeps pounding” despite any problem that he might face in the world.

Sam Mills
Sam Mills

Before we get into the spellbinding career and life of Sam Mills, let us look at some quick facts about him.

Quick Facts:

Full Name Samuel Davis Mills, Jr.
Birth Date June 3, 1959
Birth Place Neptune City, New Jersey, USA
Nick Name/Known As Sam Mills
Religion Christianity
Nationality American
Ethnicity African American
Education Long Branch High School
Montclair State College
Horoscope/Zodiac Sign Gemini
Father’s Name Sam Mills I
Mother’s Name Juanita Mills
Siblings Yes, an older brother
Age 64 Years Old
Height 5ft 9 inches (1.75 cm)
Weight 105kgs (232 lbs)
Death April 18, 2005
Hair Color Black
Eye Color Dark Brown
Body Measurement Unknown
Figure Athletic
Marital Status Married
Wife Melanie Mills
Children Sam Mills III
Profession American football player
Net Worth $15 million
Salary N/A
Currently Works At N/A
Affiliations NFL, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints
Active Since 1982-2005
Social Media N/A
Merch Autograph, Football Card
Last Update April, 2024

Where is Sam Mills from? Early Life, Upbringing, and College

Former Saints’ Mills was born in Neptune City, New Jersey, on June 3, 1959, to mother Juanita Mills and Father Sam Mills Sr.

He grew up in Long Branch, New Jersey. An avid sportsman even as a kid, Mills loved to play the game called tag with his older brother.

Sam was also frequently seen playing pickup football with the older boys in the neighborhood.

Despite retiring, this sporty streak did not leave him all his life as he went on to be connected to the game as a coach.

Sam Mills studied at Long Branch High School and was a brilliant football player and wrestler.

There, he got recognized for his skills on the football field and in the ring; hence, he was appreciated and the best in his high school.

Notably, his high school has hanged his NFL jersey in the gym as an honor and a tribute to him and his brilliance in the game of football.

How tall was Sam Mills? Age, Height, and Body Measurements

The highly inspiring and legendary Sam Mills fell on the shorter side of the height spectrum.

Falling just a little under 5 ft 10 inches, Mills was overlooked numerous times as people considered his height a flaw.

His large physique at 105 kgs might seem too much, but it was perfect for a defensive linebacker for a footballer in the USFL and the NFL.

He overcame the height barrier through his excellent gameplay and lightning speed later in his life, which earned him multiple honors throughout his life.

Sam Mills | College Career

Sam Mills attended Montclair State University, previously known as Montclair State College, from 1977 to 1980.

Mills is the all-time leader for career tackles with a whopping 501 kits.

He was named NJAC First Team All-Star three times and won the New Jersey Collegiate Writers Defensive Player of the Year three years consecutively from 1978 to 1980.

Despite performing brilliantly all through college, he was not paid much attention to by the NFL scouts because of his relatively short stature of 5ft 9 inches.

In 1981, Mills became an undrafted free agent and signed with Cleveland Browns. However, the Browns released him after they completed their preseason.

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Sam Mills | Professional Career

While for the Cleveland Browns, Mills wore jersey number 41. This was one of the only two times when he did not wear his signature jersey number 51.

In 1982, Mills signed with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League, but he got released before the season started.

During his early career, Mills was subject to extreme ignorance from the Scouters and NFL draft teams because of his short height.

Sam Mills inside the field
Sam Mills is inside the field.

People would be impressed by his game, but they dropped any interest in him s soon as they heard about his short stature.

Mills found a job assisting the football coach at East Orange High School and teaching photography to support himself.

The coach at Cleveland Browns, Sam Rutigliano, made a few calls and helped Mills land a tryout for the Philadelphia Stars of the United States Football League.

Sam Mills shined with his extraordinary performance at the training camp and became widely known as the “Field Mouse” because of his size and unbelievable speed. He quickly became the star of the league.

Sam Mills in ‘The Stars’

Sam Mills spent a good three years with the Stars and became an essential part of the team during that time.

He was famous for his leadership skills on and off the field and his tenacity in the game. The Philadelphia Stars (moved to Baltimore in 1985) won two championships with Mills.

Mills was hailed as one of the best defensive players in the league’s history during its short time.

Sam Mills
Sam Mills

Sam was also a part of the All-USFL teams and a member of the USFL’s All-Time team.

The Philadelphia Stars coach, Jim Mora, was hired by the New Orleans Saints and Sam Mills chose to follow along with his mentor and join the New Orleans Saints of the NFL.

Mills was essential to the defense during his time with the Saints.

Mills was a part of the “Dome Patrol,” a ferocious line of defense made by coach Mora. He played for the Saints for nine seasons under coach Mora.

Mills acted as the captain and signal-caller of the defense and led the team to be part of the first four playoff teams in the history of the NFL.

When Mills became a free agent in the NFL season end of 1994, Mills was offered a two-year $2.8 million deal from Carolina Panthers. New Orleans Saints offered the same thing to Mills.

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Shift to the Panthers

Eventually, Mills chose the Carolina Panthers because he was displeased that New Orleans Saints did not offer a non-solicited offer.

In Carolina Panthers, Mills was considered a highly experienced player in an otherwise young team. Sam Mills started every game for the Panthers for the first three seasons.

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One of the most memorable games of Sam Mills for the Carolina Panthers would be in 1995 when he played against the New York Jets.

Mills guarded Bubby Brister with a shovel pass and made a 36-yard touchdown. This victory gave the Carolina Panthers their very first victory in NFL history.

With the Carolina Panthers, Mills earned a fifth pro-bowl appearance at the age of 37, making him the oldest defender to be invited to the Pro Bowl. Sam Mills retired after the following season.

Career Stats Summary

Summary G AV Sk Solo FF
Career 181 127 20.5 1142 2

Sam Mills | Highlights and Awards

  • 1987: Pro Bowl
  • 1988: Pro Bowl
  • 1991: Pro Bowl, Second-team All-Pro
  • 1992: Pro Bowl, Second-team All-Pro
  • 1996: Prow Bowl, First-team All-Pro
  • 1983–1985: 3× All-USFL, 2× USFL champion 
  • USFL All-Time Team, Carolina Panthers No. 51 retired, Carolina Panthers Hall of Honor, New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame

Sam Mills | Cancer, Last Moments, Death and Legacy

The NFL player Mills was diagnosed with intestinal Cancer in August 2003, working as a linebackers coach for the Carolina Panthers.

The doctors concluded that he only had a few months to live. Despite this, Mills did not stop his duty of coaching the team.

He got started on the treatments like chemotherapy and radiation to prolong his life. Sam Mills was an inspiration to the Panthers for Super Bowl XXXVIII.

His emotional speech before the Panther’s match against the Dallas Cowboys, where he requested everyone to “keep pounding,” will always be remembered.

Speaking about Mills, Panthers Linebackers Will Witherspoon said,

“He’s definitely the best coach I ever had, I got to talk to him the last couple of weeks and I knew that he wasn’t doing well, but he never wanted to bring that up.

“He always wanted to focus on how I was doing. There’s nothing better than the fact that he concentrated more on other people than he did on himself.”

He fought Cancer for about two years while coaching the Panthers. He died on April 18, 2005, in his home in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Panthers’ Tribute

As a tribute to Mills, the Carolina Panthers retired famous Jersey No. 51. It was the first-ever number that the franchise had retired in history.

The speech made by Mills to keep pounding inspired the sports brand Nike so when they got the opportunity to make jerseys for NFL starting the 2012 season, they sewed “Keep Pounding” on the insides of the Panther’s Jersey.

Before the start of a game on their home ground, Carolina Panthers play the drumming bangs of “Keep Pounding” as a tribute.

The drums were also once played by Basketball Star, Panthers fan, and Charlotte Native Stephen Curry.

“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!” -Sam Mills quotes.

Some FAQs:

How much is a Sam Mills rookie card worth?

Sam Mills’s rookie card price ranges from $0.34-$4.53.

What position did Sam Mills play?

Sam Mills was a professional football player who played in the linebacker position.

When was Sam Mills inducted into the Hall of Fame?

Sam Mills was inducted into the “College Football Hall of Fame” in 2009. Likewise, it is reported that Sam will be inducted into the “Pro Football Hall of Fame” in 2022.

Is there a Sam Mills documentary?

Yes, a Sam Mills documentary called “A Football Life.”

Aaditya Bhatta
Aaditya Bhatta

Aaditya Bhatta

Aaditya Bhatta is a dynamic writer and sports enthusiast, whose passion for both realms is reflected in his work. With a keen eye for detail and a knack for storytelling, Aaditya brings a unique perspective to his writing, captivating readers with his engaging content.


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Aaditya's journey as a writer and sports aficionado began at a young age when he discovered his passion for both pursuits. Throughout his academic and professional endeavors, Aaditya has honed his skills in content creation and sports analysis, immersing himself in the intricacies of the games he loves.

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  1. Unfortunately, Sam Mills is NOT in the Pro Football Hall of Fame … he has been a Finalist the past two years (2020/2021) but has not been selected for induction … my personal opinion is that there is some resistance to allow someone who used his USFL time to PROVE that he belonged in the NFL, and THEN became one of the best linebackers of the 80s & 90s, becoming the oldest elected to start the Pro Bowl by his peers … as a Sam Mills fan from his first days with the Stars of the USFL, I pray that he IS recognized in Canton some day — to show that the USFL is not just a side note to pro football history, and that the Stars were the CLASS of the league, and PROBABLY would have beaten several NFL teams in 1983-1985 (INCLUDING the Philadelphia Eagles).


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