Scott Fowler: As Panthers great Sam Mills enters Hall of Fame, a closer look at how he 'kept pounding'

Scott Fowler, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Football

Sam Mills’ last days

In 2005, when Mills was in his final days of life, he asked Morgan to come to his home so they could say their goodbyes. Mills had shepherded Morgan’s early years with the team — taking him bowling and mentoring a linebacker who was living outside of his Miami home for the first time. Like so many, Morgan loved Mills, and he has always remembered both that last conversation and his friendship with Mills.

“As a former player, he was an awesome coach,” Morgan said. “He understood what it was like. He let you make mistakes and then, in the meeting room, he would make corrections. He didn’t over-coach you. He was just so knowledgeable, but he was never a pain in the butt.”

Mills died on April 18, 2005, slightly more than 17 years ago. Morgan still keeps a photo of himself, his wife and Mills on Morgan’s wedding day on his desk at his office in Charlotte. “I like to look at that picture every day,” Morgan said, “to remind me of Sam.”

The four children Sam and Melanie Mills produced have grown up and gone onto their own lives. Sam Mills III followed in his father’s footsteps — he also played at Montclair State and was a longtime assistant coach for the Panthers. Former Panthers head coach Ron Rivera brought Mills with him when he took the head job with the Washington Commanders, where Mills III is now the defensive line coach.


The Mills family has waited many years for Saturday, and for Sam to get his gold jacket. As Mills III once told me about what this day would mean to Sam’s family when it happened: “I feel like with his career, going to a small school to begin with, then getting a couple tryouts and not making it, then catching on with the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars, then the Saints, then Carolina — he’s always worked toward being included as a major piece of the puzzle in an organization. This would be kind of the final graduation. This would be, ‘Hey, you are part of the ultimate football family.’ ”

After starring for the Panthers’ first three teams and giving the squad the slogan that remains its heartbeat, Mills joins that ultimate football family Saturday.

What a moment this is for his own family — and for the Carolina Panthers fan base as a whole. The next time you’re in a tight spot in your own life, think of Sam Mills. And keep pounding.

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