CANTON, OHIO - Former Panthers linebacker Sam Mills has been named a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the NFL announced on Thursday night.
Mills was named a semifinalist for the third time this November, but this marks the first time that he's been selected as a finalist for the Hall of Fame.
After spending his first nine seasons with the Saints, Mills became one of the original Panthers in 1995 and produced 331 tackles, 10.0 sacks and seven interceptions during three years in Carolina.
His pick-six interception led to Carolina's first win as a franchise in 1995. In 1996, Mills was a Pro Bowler and named AP All-Pro First Team as he led Carolina to a division championship, a home playoff victory and a spot in the NFC Championship game in the team's second year of existence.
After playing one more season for Carolina in 1997, he retired and served as a Panthers defensive assistant and then linebackers coach until 2004.
Mills' battle with intestinal cancer while still on the Panthers coaching staff led to his famous "Keep Pounding" speech before the team's home playoff victory over Dallas in the 2003 Wild Card round. Mills implored the players and coaches to always Keep Pounding no matter the obstacle or circumstance in their way. Mills died from cancer in 2005.
His inspiration led to the establishment of the Keep Pounding Fund which supports cancer research efforts. Before every home game, a special guest hits the Keep Pounding drum four times to signify the team's fight through four quarters of football.
Mills is the only Panther whose number (No. 51) has been retired, and he is a member of the Panthers Hall of Honor.
As a finalist, Mills is one of 15 modern-era players eligible for Hall of Fame induction in 2020. The finalists will be presented to the full 48-member Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee during its annual meeting on Selection Sunday on Feb. 1, 2020, the day before Super Bowl LIV. The selection committee will then select five modern-era players for the Class of 2020.