Sam Mills, 45, a Veteran of 12 Seasons in the N.F.L., Dies

Sam Mills, a linebacker for the Carolina Panthers who defied opponents by becoming a Pro Bowl despite being told he was too short for the NFL, passed away on Monday. The Panthers had put up a bronze statue of Mills in his honor outside their stadium. He was 45.

Sam Mills Cause of Death

Linebackers coach for the Panthers, Mills, passed away at his home after nearly two years of treatment for intestinal cancer.

Mills played for the National Football League for a total of ten years, from 1986 to 1997. He spent the first nine of those seasons with the New Orleans Saints, and the final three with the Carolina Panthers, despite his small stature (5 feet 9 inches and 225 pounds). He was selected to the Pro Bowl five times, and at age 37, he started in the 1996 game.

Since 1999, under both George Seifert and the current head coach John Fox, Mills coached the Panthers’ linebackers. Intestinal cancer was discovered while he was at training camp in August of 2003. He missed time as a coach to get treatment, but he returned to lead the Panthers to the Super Bowl.

sam mills cause of death
sam mills cause of death

Despite his illness, Mills finished the 2004 season as coach. Drop the Hammer on Cancer is a charity event he co-founded with Panthers linebacker Mark Fields, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease around the same time as Mills. Proceeds from the sale of the “Keep Pounding” bracelets, which cost $1 each, were donated to the Blumenthal Cancer Center at Carolinas Medical Center.

“He’s definitely the best coach I ever had,” Panthers linebacker Will Witherspoon said in a statement. “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.”

Mills grew up in Neptune, NJ, and attended Montclair (NJ) State University, a Division III school, where he played from 1977 to 1980, culminating in a Kodak all-American campaign as a senior.

Both the Cleveland Browns of the American Football League in 1981 and the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League in 1982 cut ties with him. However, in 1983, he made it big with the Philadelphia Stars of the United States Football League, which no longer exists. He spent his first three years in the U.S. Football League (USFL) with the Philadelphia Eagles and their successor team, the Baltimore Stars, before signing with the New Orleans Saints in 1986.

Mills signed as a free agent with the expansion Panthers in 1995 after leading New Orleans in tackles five times and making the Pro Bowl four times. Both that year and the following year, when Carolina made an incredible run to the National Football Conference championship game, he led the team in tackles.

After his retirement, the Panthers inducted him into the team’s Hall of Honor and unveiled a bronze statue of him in front of Bank of America Stadium.

Melanie, Sam III, and Marcus Mills, as well as daughters Larissa and Sierra, are Mills’s surviving family.

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