It is said that one way to measure a man is by his accomplishments. While individual accomplishments are important, I would add that more accurate indications are taken by considering the number of people that are “touched” or inspired by an individual and by how he conducts himself in his darkest hour.
Today, we highlight a man whose impact continues to reverberate today throughout not only Carolina communities, but far beyond, and who has inspired the best out of so many. Sam Mills.
Mills started his NFL career with the New Orleans Saints (1986-94) as a 4-time Pro Bowl linebacker before coming to Carolina in its inaugural 1995 season following free agency. He would make one more Pro Bowl appearance while with the Panthers as a player (1995-97), and was ultimately inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, the Sports Hall of Fame of New Jersey (of which he was a native), the New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame, and the Carolina Panthers Hall of Honor. Following his time as a player, Mills took on a coaching role with the Panthers, first as a Defensive Coaching Assistant in 1998, and was later promoted to Linebackers Coach in 1999.
During his tenure as the latter, Mills was diagnosed with terminal intestinal cancer in August 2003 and was told he only had a few months to live. This had to be a dark hour for Mills. Yet, despite receiving such devastating news just hours before showing up to start the season, Mills continued coaching and did not miss a single game that season while he underwent treatment. The Panthers would go on to make the playoffs that season and prior to their playoff game versus the Dallas Cowboys on January 2, 2004, Mills gave an emotional speech where he first used the phrase, “Keep Pounding.” He spoke about commitment, dedication to teammates, team effort, and never giving up.
“When I found out I had cancer, there were two things I could do – quit or keep pounding. I’m a fighter. I kept pounding. You’re fighters, too. Keep pounding!” Mills espoused.
The Panthers would go on to win that game as they made their way to the Super Bowl, and nearly took home the Lombardi Trophy. Alas, “Keep Pounding” later became the name of a fund to sponsor cancer research programs at Carolinas Medical Center and the official team slogan.
Mills passed away in 2005, defying the odds till the end, but “Keep Pounding” lives on. The words are inscribed in the weight room at Bank of America Stadium, and in large letters by the team meeting rooms and locker room entry ways.
They are sewn inside the collar of every jersey.
Mills’ jersey, number 51, was the 1st number the franchise retired, taking place at the start of the 2005 NFL season.
Immediately following the coin toss before every home game, an honorary drummer rallies the entire stadium by hitting the massive six-foot Keep Pounding Drum four times to signify four quarters. Keep Pounding Drummers come from a variety of backgrounds and occupations, but all have overcome a great trial or adversity that has not only made them strong but also pushes them to make others around them stronger. Here, Outside Linebacker Thomas Davis, who has spent 11 years in the league and come back from an unprecedented 3 ACL surgeries on his right knee and was recently voted in for this year’s Pro Bowl, gives it a go.
Team owner and founder, Jerry Richardson doesn't hesitate to say Mills was his favorite Carolina player ever. To this day, Mills is the only player to have a statue outside the stadium in the team's Hall of Honor.
Keep Pounding is many things. It is football. It is life. It is adversity, perseverance, progress, and success all crystallized into one. It is also a beautiful reminder that often the most tragic events bring us the closest together. We have Sam to thank for that.
Panthers fans, old and new… keep Sam and his legacy in your hearts and minds this weekend as we Keep Pounding against the Arizona Cardinals!
Until next week!
Email me at chris@704Shop.com if you have interesting Charlotte facts you’d like to share or just to provide feedback!
“We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future.” – Frederick Douglass