Linebacker Sam Mills, one of the four members of the New Orleans Saints’ vaunted “Dome Patrol” crew, failed to make the NFL Hall of Fame for 2020.
The New Orleans Saints’ Sam Mills became a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame for the first time after his eligibility began in 2003.
A 5-foot, 10-inch player out of Montclair State University in New Jersey, Mills failed to reach the NFL and went undrafted due to his size. Scouts were weary of his height at the linebacker position, so he fought to make a team as a free agent.
After short stints with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns and the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts, Mills joined a new league called the USFL in 1983.
Mills met future Saints head coach Jim Mora with the Philadelphia Stars to build a short-lived dynasty in the USFL, winning back-to-back titles in 1984 and 1985.
When the league folded after the 1985 season, Mora left to coach the New Orleans Saints, and he brought Mills with him. Mills became part of a talented quartet of linebackers with Rickey Jackson, Vaughn Johnson, and Pat Swilling to form the “Dome Patrol.”
From 1987-1993, the Saints made the playoffs four times and never had a losing record, thanks to their formidable defensive squad.
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As a Saint, Mills made four Pro Bowls, including the 1992 season, when Jackson, Johnson, Mills and Swilling became the only team ever to have four linebackers make the Pro Bowl.
In 1995, Mills joined the expansion Carolina Panthers and they had one of their greatest seasons in 1996 when the team reached the NFC Championship in only their second season. In Carolina, a 37-year-old Mills made another Pro Bowl in 1996 and earned First-team All-Pro honors.
After the 1997 season, Mills retired at age 38 with five Pro Bowls, one First-team All-Pro nod, two Second-team All-Pro selections, 1,319 career tackles and 11 interceptions. He also won two USFL Championships and earned All-USFL selections in the three seasons that the league existed.
In 2005, Mills passed away at age 45 from intestinal cancer after being diagnosed in 2003 as a member of the Panthers’ coaching staff.
Mills is revered in both the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints’ organizations, as Carolina retired Mills’ No. 51 and placed him in its Hall of Honor, and New Orleans put him in its Hall of Fame.
Carolina also keeps his memory alive with its “Keep Pounding” mantra, as Mills said this quote while he was fighting his cancer and still coaching in Carolina.
Mills has finally gotten closer to making the Pro Football Hall of Fame but is still just short of his official posthumous recognition in Canton, Ohio.
His resumé speaks volumes about his impact in the USFL and NFL, dominating in a short-lived league, making the Saints a playoff force and leading an expansion team to the doorstep of the Super Bowl.
Mills deserves a Hall of Fame bust, but as he said, fans need to just keep pounding and one day, he will be placed in Canton.