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Panthers great Sam Mills enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Mills' widow Melanie told the crowd to "keep pounding", echoing her late husband's rally to his team.

CANTON, Ohio — There are over 25,000 men who have played in the NFL. There are now only 362 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

On Saturday, Carolina Panthers great Sam Mills became one of them. Mills died in 2005 at the age of 45 after a battle with intestinal cancer.

His widow Melanie, along with former Saints coach Jim Mora who gave Sam his shot in the NFL, revealed his Hall of Fame bust in Canton, Ohio. It featured an intense look, just as Mills displayed on the field.

But Mills was more than just a football legend.

RELATED: The story behind Sam Mills' Keep Pounding speech

“You’ve already heard a lot of statistics,” Melanie said, “but today I want to talk to you about the humanity of a man.”

With their sons just off stage, Melanie Mills told the football world what we in the Carolinas have known: that Sam Mills was also a hall of fame person.

“Sam treated everyone with respect and dignity they deserved,” Melanie said. “He talked to everyone. And I mean everyone. He told dad jokes and loved childish pranks.”

Credit: AP
Melanie Mills, widow of former NFL player Sam Mills, right, and Jim Mora pose with his bust during an induction ceremony at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/David Dermer)

Of course, there were plenty of Panthers fans in the crowd and their emotions were stirred.

“My eyes welled up with tears,” Joe Nejberger, who made the trip from Charlotte said. “Sam has been a longtime hero for me, for overcoming all kinds of adversity to get where he was. This has been so, so sweet and emotional for me.”

RELATED: Panthers former PR director recognized by Pro Football Hall of Fame

Will Witherspoon, who played under Mills as a Panthers linebacker, spoke to WCNC Charlotte about their close bond, and his thoughts on seeing him enshrined.

“There’s no real words for it for me,” Witherspoon said. “That’s one of the greatest honors you can have and one of the best things that can be said. It represents the kind of person he was. He should be there. That kind of person, that well remembered.”

And of course, Melanie Mills could not leave the stage without that familiar, two-word refrain.

RELATED: Behind the making of Sam Mills' Hall of Fame bust

“Thank you for this honor,” she said. “For believing in Sam. And for helping keep his story alive. Keep Pounding everyone. That’s what Sam would want you to do.”

Contact Nick Carboni at ncarboni@wcnc.com and follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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