Long Branch football player to join these NJ athletes in the NFL Hall of Fame
Sam Mills was a unique athlete. Born in Neptune City and growing up in Long Branch, he was told time and again that at 5-foot-9 he was too short to play football. So he "kept pounding" until he achieved his dream.
He pounded his way through Long Branch High School, Montclair State University, where he earned Division II All-American honors at Montclair State, where he still holds the team record for career tackles 40 years after graduating.
He pounded his way through the Cleveland Browns and Toronto Argonauts, where he was cut for being too short. He pounded his way into the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars, New Orleans Saints, and Carolina Panthers.
On Saturday Aug. 6, Sam Mills will be inducted into The Pro Football Hall Of Fame along with tackle Tony Boselli, wide receiver Cliff Branch, safety LeRoy Butler, official Art McNally, defensive end/defensive tackle Richard Seymour, coach Dick Vermeil and defensive tackle/defensive end Bryant Young.
Pounding pays off!
After being cut by the Cleveland Browns and Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League. Mills joined the Philadelphia Stars of the United States Football League where he made 592 tackles, earning All-USFL honors three times and helping the Stars win back-to-back championships in 1984 and 1985 under Coach Jim Mora.
When the USFL folded after the 1985 season, Mora became head coach of the New Orleans Saints and brought Mills with him. This began a 12-year NFL career that saw Mills play 181 career games with 173 starts and total more than 1,300 tackles, 20.5 sacks, 11 interceptions, and 22 forced fumbles. He was named to five Pro Bowls and once as a first-team All-Pro. Who will ever forget his stealing the ball from Jets quarterback Browning Nagle and running 76 yards or a touchdown?
After nine years in New Orleans, Mills jumped to the expansion Carolina Panthers where in three seasons he started all 48 regular-season games and both games in the 1996 postseason, when the second-year team reached the NFC Championship Game, falling to eventual Super Bowl winner Green Bay.
Mills stayed with Carolina as an assistant coach when his playing career ended. In 2003, he was diagnosed with cancer and given three months to live.
Mills delivered an emotional speech as the Panthers were preparing for the playoffs, telling the team: “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 would live 17 months longer than doctors predicted, dying in April 2005 at age 45.
Banging a huge “Keep Pounding” drum remains a tradition at Panthers games."
Mills joins these other Jersey NFL players in the HOF:
Drew Pearson, HOF Class of 2021. Another South River native. Pearson had 489 receptions and 7,822 receiving yards in his 11-year career with the Dallas Cowboys from 1973-83. Pearson also went to three Pro Bowls. Who will ever forget his famous "Hail Mary" catch to beat the Vikings in 1975? Who will ever forget his Hall Of Fame induction speech in 2021?
David Robinson, HOF Class of 2013. This Mount Holly native along with Ray Nitschskeand Lee Roy Caffey was part of one of the best linebacking corps in NFL history helping the Green Bay Packers win the first two Super Bowls. From 1960-62 Robinson played both offense and defense for Penn State.
Andre Tippet, HOF Class of 2008. This New England Patriot linebacker from 1982-93 graduated from Newark's Barringer High School.
Elvin Bethea, HOF Class of 2003. Bethea, a standout defensive end spent his entire 16 year career with the Houston Oilers where he amassed 105 sacks and 8 Pro Bowls. Before that he was a multi-sport star at Trenton Central High where he set the state record in the shot put in 1964 of 66ft 4.5 inches which stood until 1997.
Jim Ringo, HOF Class of 1981- a ten-time Pro Bowler during his 15-year career with the Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles, winning championships with the Packers in 1961-62. Ringo was born in Orange and grew up in Phillipsburg where he attended Phillipsburg High School and attended Syracuse.
Alex Wojciechowicz, HOF Class of 1968. Born in South River he attended South River High School, At Fordham, he became one of the seven blocks of granite alongside Vince Lombardi and went onto a 12-year career from 1938-50 with the Philadelphia Eagles and Detroit Lions playing on both sides of the ball.
Lou Creekmur, HOF Class of 1996. The Hopelawn native played offensive line for the Detroit Lions. He appeared in 165 straight games including pre-season, regular season and post-season. from 1950-58, also since he never wore a face mask, his nose was broken 13 times.
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