CHARLOTTE – The spirit of Keep Pounding has one more chance of reaching the Professional Football Hall of Fame.
Former Panthers linebacker Sam Mills was among 15 finalists for induction into the 2022 class, which was announced Thursday afternoon.
This is Mills’ third consecutive year as a finalist, and in his 20th year of eligibility, his last chance. If he does not show up to the hall this year, he will have to be chosen by the seniors committee.
Mills, who died in 2005 following a courageous battle with cancer, was distinguished for three franchises during his career.
He helped turn the Philadelphia Stars into a USFL powerhouse under coach Jim Mora. He helped turn a rebel Saints team into a contender, leading the Dome Patrol defense that was among the best in the league.
And then he came to Carolina and became a legend.
Mills was among the first free agents brought here in the 1995 expansion season, helping to lay the groundwork for a franchise that went 7-9 in its first season and 12-4 and in the NFC Championship game. in his magical second year.
Mills spearheaded that defense and led a talented squad including Hall of Fame member Kevin Greene, who would exceed all expectations of a young team.
After retiring after the 1997 season, Mills joined the Panthers as an assistant coach. He worked despite being diagnosed with cancer in 2003, and before the playoff opener against Dallas that year, he spoke the words that became the defining and enduring moment in Panthers mythology.
“When I found out I had cancer there were two things I could do: stop or keep beating,” Mills told the team ahead of that game. “I am a fighter. I kept on fighting. You are also fighters. Keep on fighting!”
During his NFL career, he was three times All Pro and five times Pro Bowler.
He was also inducted into the Saints Ring of Honor, the Panthers Hall of Honor, and his 51 is the only number retired in Panthers history.