Ten Quick Notes on the Class of 2022 Hall of Famer Sam Mills.
– TheStatuette of Sam Mills outside the Carolina Panthers stadium testifies to Sam Mills’ connection to Charlotte. He played there, he coached there, he died there.
The bond with his first NFL team, the Saints, is almost as strong.
“Going back to New Orleans when my dad was put in the Ring of Honor was like coming home,” Sam’s son Marcus said. “For me, New Orleans and Charlotte are home.”
– Cleveland could have been homebut the Browns cut Mills in the 1981 and 1982 preseasons.
Browns head coach Sam Rutigliano allowed defensive coordinator Marty Schottenheimer to make the decision. Like many others who rated Mills, Schottenheimer thought the 5-foot-9 linebacker was too short.
Mills spent three years in the USFL before joining the Saints. One of Mills’ USFL teammates was linebacker Mike Johnson, who joined the Browns after the league disbanded. Schottenheimer had replaced Rutigliano as Cleveland’s head coach.
– Since the creation of the saints as an expansion team in 1967 until Mills joined them in the mid-1980s, they never had a winning season.
Winning has become a habit with Mills on the court. The Saints started rolling in 1987, when they started with a 28-21 win over a Browns side that advanced to the AFC Finals. Mills was part of Saints teams that went 12-3 in 1987, 10-6 in 1988, 9-7 in 1989, 11-5 in 1991 and 12-4 in 1992.
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– Earning playoff honors was tough. Mills played in an era of solid linebackers, including Lawrence Taylor, Andre Tippett, Carl Banks and Harry Carson. The Browns had two big talents, Clay Matthews and Chip Banks.
Mills was a second-team All-Pro at inside linebacker in 1991. The first-team members were Mike Singletary and Chris Spielman. Mills and Spielman made second-team All-Pro in 1992, when Junior Seau was a first-teamer.
– An nfl.com article from 2016 identified the Saints’ Mills, Rickey Jackson, Vaughan Johnson and Pat Swilling as “the most dominant linebacking corps the league has ever seen.”
They became known as The Dome Patrol.
They blew the roof off on a 9-1 streak in 1991. In a 20-3 win over Washington, the Patrol held running back Earnest Byner to 29 yards on 13 carries.
Mills is the second Dome Patrol member to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, following Jackson, who was elected in 2010. Johnson made four consecutive Pro Bowls, from 1989 to 1992. Swilling was named Defensive Player of the Year in the NFL in 1991.
It was easy to spot the 5-9 Mills. Vaughan, Swilling and Jackson were all in 6-3 range.
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– The Saints never won a playoff game with Mills, in part because the offense was no match for the defense.
The starting quarterbacks for Mills’ nine seasons (1986-1994) were Dave Wilson, Bobby Hebert, John Fourcade, Wade Wilson, Steve Walsh, Mike Buck and Jim Everett.
In a 16-6 playoff loss to the Bears in 1990, Fourcade and Walsh both played, combining to go 11-for-34, with three interceptions.
– Dom Capersone of Mount Union’s favorite sons, helped coach the Saints defense for six of Mills’ seasons (1986-91. Capers jumped to Pittsburgh as defensive coordinator when Bill Cowher took over the Steelers in 1992.
After Capers became head coach of the expansion Panthers in 1995, Mills moved from the Saints to Carolina as a free agent.
There’s an “i” in Mills’ last name, but Capers missed it when Mills became the franchise’s first Ring of Honor Panther player, saying, “There’s no I in Sam Mills. He’s a we-our-us type.”
Capers is still coaching. He coached with the Detroit Lions last year and, at 71, is on the Denver Broncos’ 2022 roster.
– Capers and Mike McCormack both helped bring Mills to the Panthers in 1995, after spending nine years with the Saints.
McCormack, who is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as an offensive lineman for the Cleveland Browns, was the Panthers’ first general manager from the expansion.
The Panthers got off to a flying start, having prepared years before their first game. In 1989, McCormack was part of the group that began pursuing an expansion franchise. He became general manager in 1993, two years before the inaugural season.
Eventually McCormack was named president and hired Bill Polian as general manager.
McCormack, who was 83 when he died in 2013, and Mills, who was 45 when he died in 2005, are the only two men honored with statues outside Carolina Stadium.
– Mills met his wife, Melaniewhen they were students at Long Branch High School near the Atlantic Ocean in southern New Jersey.
“We lived about two blocks from the beach,” said Melanie – the school’s nickname was Green Wave. “We didn’t know each other until a family member introduced us.
“Sam had a lot of friends, in high school and then in college. He was very serious about athletics. He was a very good wrestler.”
– Sam didn’t stay with a pro team until his third year out of Montclair State. He made the Philadelphia All-Star List.
“The USFL was a fun league,” Melanie said. “The rules allowed celebrations. The Stars won championships.
“Then we were with the Saints and it was a life of football. I was president of the women’s organization. The Saints in the 1980s and early 90s were a good team, and it was a lot of fun too.”