In sports we are divided. Plain and simple. New Yorkers love their Yankees. Bostonians love their Red Sox. The Buckeyes hate the Wolverines, the Bruins hate the Trojans, Lakers fans don’t particularly care for Celtics fans.
No matter what sport, or what level you will always find someone who, for whatever reason hates your team, and you probably hate theirs too. Rivalry is the heartbeat of sports, and we all embrace it.
I am certainly included in this. As a Pitt Panthers fan I freely admit to hating the Mountaineers.
No fan can avoid this mentality. So I asked myself, is there any part of sports that we can feel united in? Well to be frank, there isn’t much. Some people like golf, some people like tennis. Some people like to run the ball, others enjoy passing the ball.
The list goes on, but as I thought about this I remembered a man who taught a lot of people a lesson about what sports truly means. It is a lesson that every fan of every team in every nation can learn from and emulate in all aspects of their lives. It is the story of Sam Mills.
Sam Mills was an undersized linebacker out of Montclair State College, and despite his talent he went undrafted. After playing in the USFLfor three years, he finally got his chance withthe New Orleans Saints.
He would play withthem for nine seasons, and appeared in four pro bowls. He is often called one of the greatest Saints to ever play. He was then picked up by the Panthers and played there for three seasons.
He reached his fifth Pro Bowl game, and in ’96 was finally able to make a deep playoff run as he helped lead the Panthers to the NFC Championship Game.
After three seasons in Charlotte he retired. Subsequently he became the Panthers linebackers coach, and remained an active leader in the locker room.
However in August of 2003 Sam Mills was diagnosed with intestinal cancer and was given two months to live. He was now in his sixth year as the Panthers linebackers coach, and the obvious decision was looming.
Give up, or keep fighting. Mills, who was one of the toughest men to ever put on a helmet, said no to cancer.
He kept his job as a coach on the Panthers staff. He arranged his chemotherapy treatments so that he could still coach every game. He never stopped fighting. He never stopped giving back to his team. His fight to survive became an inspirational story for the Panthers that year. They became the Cardiac Cats and lived on Mills motto, “Keep Pounding”.
Before the post-season started he gave the Panthers a rousing speech, and one of his quotes has always stuck out to me.
“You have your good days and your bad days. I am just glad I am having days, you know?"
He said that their play on the field inspired him, and in return he inspired them. The Panthers went on to beat the Cowboys, Rams, and Eagles en route to Super Bowl XXXVIII. Despite their best efforts they came up short, but I firmly believe that Mills was honored by how they played for him.
Sam Mills died on April 18th, 2005 in Charlotte. He was 45. His lesson, though, is what lives on. He was the man who was too small to play in the NFL, but he didn’t listen to that.
He was the man that was only supposed to live for another two months, but he didn’t listen. He was the man that wasn’t supposed to be coaching, and again he didn’t listen.
Instead he would fight. He never let outside forces stop him from doing what he loved…football. I firmly believe that this is the lesson that every sports fan from every team can learn from.
No matter what life gives you, even death, it can never be an excuse to stop doing what makes you happy. Never stop fighting, never surrender, and keep on pounding. If we all believe in this than I guess we really aren’t that different at all.