The Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee announced Thursday, Feb. 10 that legendary New Orleans Saints linebacker Sam Mills will be enshrined as part of the Hall of Fame's Class of 2022. Mills and the rest of the class will be enshrined at the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio in August.
"Sam Mills is one of our team's most decorated players in franchise history and was an important part of one of the greatest defenses in NFL history," said Saints Owner Gayle Benson. "Sam was the heart and soul of the team, possessing leadership qualities that allowed him to make a great impact both on and off the field. Sam has been and always will be an integral part of the tradition and success of the New Orleans Saints and we would like to congratulate his widow Melanie and their family on this prestigious and well-deserved honor."
Mills, 5 feet 9, 232 pounds, who died in 2005 after a valiant battle with cancer, joined the Saints in 1986, signing with the team after starting his pro football career in the USFL with the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars (1983-85). The former Montclair State (N.J.) standout spent nine seasons (1986-94) with New Orleans, a time when he was one of the spark plugs of one of the NFL's most dominant defenses during the majority of his tenure with the Saints.
The New Jersey native played in 133 games with 125 starts during his Saints tenure and recorded 934 tackles (723 solo), ranked second in club history to Rickey Jackson, 10.5 sacks, four interceptions, 27 passes defensed, 16 forced fumbles and 17 fumble recoveries, two recovered for a touchdown. Mills led New Orleans in tackles in five of his nine (1989-92 and 1994) seasons and reached the century mark five times (1988, 1990-92 and 1994), tied with Jackson for the most in club history. During his tenure, the Saints were ranked in the top four in the NFL in opponent net yards per game three times (1987, 1991-92) and in scoring defense three times (1988, 1991-92), including ranking first in 1991 and 1992. In four postseason contests, he also added 35 tackles (27 solo) and one sack.
"I coached Sam Mills for 12 years and he exemplified everything that you would want in a player," said former Saints Head Coach Jim Mora, who served as Mills' head coach for nine seasons from 1986-94 in New Orleans and also coached him with the USFL's Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars from 1983-85. "He achieved as close to his potential as any player I ever coached. He was special and his character, leadership and work ethic were second to none. Sam is truly deserving of this honor and I am so happy for his family and friends and proud of the legacy he leaves behind."
Mills earned accolade after accolade during his playing years with the Saints, being selected to the Pro Bowl four times (1987-88 and 1991-92) and as a consensus All-Pro twice (1991-92). Mills was selected to the New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame in 1998, the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 2001, the club's All-50th Team in 2016 and the team's Ring of Honor in 2021.
Following the conclusion of his Saints career in 1994, Mills played three more seasons for the Carolina Panthers from 1995-97, producing 331 tackles, 10 sacks and seven interceptions, summing up his career totals to 1,265 stops, 20.5 quarterback takedowns and 11 interceptions. He was selected to his fifth Pro Bowl in 1996 and also as an Associated Press All-Pro for the third time.
Mills was one of the club's most active players in the community, having been selected as the Saints recipient of the Byron "Whizzer" White Humanitarian Award in 1992 and 1993.
Mills is survived by his wife Melanie and their four children, sons Sam Mills III and Marcus Mills and daughters Larissa Mills and Sierra Mills.
New Orleans Saints legend Sam Mills was inducted into the Saints Ring of Honor on Thursday, December 2, 2021 as the Saints took on the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday night.