Cleat Geeks

The Panther Post: Keep Pounding!

SamMillsStatueOutside the North entrance to Bank of America Stadium stands the statue of a football player. He is in full uniform and holding his helmet in one hand.  He is larger than life.  He is #51, Linebacker Sam Mills, and he remains the only player to have his number retired in the twenty-one years the Carolina Panthers have played football.

Mills was an undersized middle linebacker coming out of tiny Montclair State College in New Jersey. He went undrafted after finishing school in 1980 and actually spent a couple of years teaching and coaching in high school before he got a chance to try out for the USFL’s Philadelphia Stars. Mills not only made the team, but helped lead the Stars to two USFL titles in three years.  As fate would have it, Mills’ coach with the Stars was none other than Jim Mora. When Mora was offered the head coaching job with the New Orleans Saints, he gladly brought his middle linebacker with him. Sam Mills would spend the next nine years patrolling the middle for the vaunted “Dome Patrol” defense and be named to four Pro-Bowls.

hall_of_honor_millsAfter the 1994 season, Mills became a free agent.  The expansion Carolina Panthers were looking for veteran leadership on defense and quickly made Mills their target. Disgruntled that New Orleans did not make more of an effort to retain him, Mills signed with the Panthers before their inaugural season in 1995. Like most expansion teams, the Panthers struggled out of the gate, losing their first five games. Finally, on their sixth attempt, the Panthers broke into the win column with a 26-15 victory over the New York Jets that was sparked by Mills’ interception of a Bubby Brister shovel pass that he returned for a touchdown.

Mills would play two more seasons for the Panthers, including a fifth Pro-Bowl nod after the 1996 season which saw the second year expansion team shockingly advance to the Conference Championship game.  At the close of the 1997 season, Mills called it quits on a stellar 15-year career in professional football.

Since Mills was basically a coach on the field for the young Panthers, it was no surprise when he was offered a defensive assistants job with the team beginning with the 1998 season.  He was promoted to Linebackers Coach the following year and remained in that role for four more seasons.SamMillsKeepPounding02-vi

In May of 2003, Sam Mills was diagnosed with intestinal cancer.  He was given just months to live.

On one wall of the Panthers weight room is a photo of the statue that stands in front of the stadium.  Next to that photo are these words:

“The date was January 2, 2004.

One day before the biggest game in Panthers history, a playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys.

Coach Mills took a minute to speak about commitment.  About dedication to your teammates.  About total team effort.  He asked players to Keep Pounding.  On offense.  On defense.  On special teams.  On every.  Single.  Play.

Carolina Panthers 29, Dallas Cowboys 10″KeepPoundingJersey

Sam Mills died on the morning of April 18, 2005.  He was 45 years old.

When Nike took over NFL uniform production in 2012, they stitched the words “Keep Pounding” into the neck of every Panthers jersey.

Sam’s son, Sam Mills III, is still employed by the Panthers as an up and coming defensive coach.

So on Sunday evening, just before kickoff, when you hear Bank of America Stadium roaring with 73,500 people chanting “Keep Pounding”, you’ll know why.  And Panther fan or not, hopefully you will appreciate the legacy of a great man.





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