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Former New Orleans Saints teammates believe Sam Mills belongs in Pro Football Hall of Fame

'He made a statement in this league, year in and year out'

Some have forgotten the phenomenon, the wonder, the punch-a-hole-through-the-prototype outlier that was Sam Mills.

Others haven't.

"Perfect gentleman off the field, a great Christian man," former New Orleans Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert said. "But on the field, Sam was bringing it."

What Mills, who died in 2005 after a battle with intestinal cancer, brought to the field as a linebacker for the Saints and Carolina Panthers got him to the point where currently, he's one of 15 finalists for the 2020 Pro Football Hall of Fame class.

Five of the 15 will comprise the Class of 2020; the inductees will be announced Saturday.

If ever a player earned his "unicorn" label, it was Mills. At 5 feet 9 and 225 pounds, he lasted 12 NFL seasons after playing three years in the USFL. And after becoming a three-time All-USFL player and helping lead the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars to two league titles, he joined the Saints and became a two-time All-Pro (1991 and '92) and four-time Pro Bowler ('87, '88, '91 and '92) as a member of the acclaimed "Dome Patrol," then went to Carolina and earned another All-Pro and Pro Bowl honor ('96).

He finished his career with 20.5 sacks, 11 interceptions, 22 forced fumbles, 23 fumble recoveries, four defensive touchdowns and 1,265 tackles.

"To be honest with you, when I think about a guy who's a Hall of Famer, not only does he have the numbers – which Sammy has – but he had a long career," said former Saint Pat Swilling, a Dome Patrol member along with Mills, Rickey Jackson and the late Vaughan Johnson. Jackson already is a Hall of Fame inductee, Class of 2010.

"He made a statement in this league, year in and year out," Swilling said. "And not only with the Dome Patrol and what we did here, but he went on to Carolina and continued to play at a high level

"People need to understand – 5-foot-9, 225-pound inside linebacker, during our time when linebackers were 6-3, 260 (pounds) like Vaughan Johnson, to stand in there and play like he played, he just embodied what an NFL player was. That's the best way to put it. And I mean, a great NFL player. I'm hoping and praying that he makes it because there's not too many times that a guy like myself would have played with two Hall of Famers."

The current Hall of Famer agrees.The Dome Patrol is considered one of the best - if not the best - linebacker units in NFL history.

"I think he should get in," said Jackson, who was Mills' teammate from 1986-93. "It's time. He was a good player, a hard worker. He was a leader and he made a lot of plays. I hate that they wait until you pass away and put you in, but I think he's very deserving.

"He helped me out a whole lot. My younger days, I used to call the defense but when he came, I didn't have to call the defense anymore. He took over the role and I was able to freelance and just play football."

Mills played his share of good ball, too. "The Field Mouse" was an every-down player who overwhelmingly won the leverage battle when it came to delivering hits, but also was capable of covering backs in the passing game. Plus, he always was credited with being one of the smartest players on defense.

"If he'd have played in New York, he'd be in already, I think," Hebert said. "As much as I love Rickey and the Dome Patrol, the quarterback of the defense was Sam Mills. Same with Jonathan Vilma, Demario Davis – he was the quarterback of the defense. An unbelievable guy not only on the field, but off.

"I knew him way back in the USFL. We beat them in the championship in '83, when he was with the Philadelphia Stars and I was with Michigan. Sam was very Luke Kuechly-like with his instincts and studying. I mean, as far as anticipating plays, you'd be like, 'Was he in the huddle? How did he know that?'

"But his instincts in pass coverage, he could run sideline to sideline, was unbelievable."

Now, his former teammates will await word to see if it's enough to earn Mills an induction into the Hall of Fame in his first year as a finalist.

"I'm elated," Swilling said. "I've been praying and hoping for the last couple of months once I heard he was a finalist that he gets in. He deserves to be in."

'Dome Patrol' member Sam Mills was inducted into the 2020 Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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