This Day in College Football History – April 18th

Sam  Mills (June 3, 1959 – April 18, 2005) was a linebacker who played twelve seasons in the National Football League for the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers. Sam Mills was born in Neptune City, New Jersey. While growing up in Long Branch, New Jersey, he loved to tag along with his older brother and play pickup football games with the bigger boys. Mills attended high school at Long Branch High School, where he was a standout football player and wrestler. In 1976 and 1977, Mills won District Championships at Long Branch as a wrestler. Long Branch High School honors him to this day by hanging his high school jersey and his NFL jersey in the school gym. Although considered a great athlete in high school, Mills’ 5’9″ frame didn’t interest college scouts. Mills attended college at Montclair State College (now known as Montclair State University) and made the football squad as a walk-on. As of today, Mills is the all-time leader in career tackles at Montclair State with 501, tackles in a season (142) and tackles in a game (22). Mills played for Montclair State from 1977-1980. He was a three-time NJAC First Team All-Star and was named the New Jersey Collegiate Writers Defensive Player of the Year for three straight seasons (1978–1980).

Fred Hill, who coached Mills at Montclair State, said that many pro scouts loved his tape, but when they heard he was only 5’9″, they lost interest. Just like after high school, Mills’ lack of height held him back. After College, his Pop Warner Football coach Thomas Bevacqui Jr. was able to get Mills into the Cleveland Browns Training Camp after meeting with Browns Coach Sam Rutigliano. Bevacqui told Rutigliano that Mills was the best linebacker that he had ever seen play the game. Mills tried out with the Cleveland Browns but was eventually cut after Rutigliano thought he had the skills but lacked the physical size to play in the NFL. He then tried out with the Canadian Football League’s Toronto Argonauts but did not make the team.

Mills found a job teaching photography and assisting the football coach at East Orange (N.J.) High School. It was at this time, Mills tried out and made the Philadelphia Stars of the USFL’s roster. Mills played for the Stars for three years. During that time (wearing #54), he became known around the league for both his tenacity on the field and his leadership off it. His speed, surprising for a man of his size, earned him the nickname “Field Mouse.” Mills led the Stars to two USFL championships, was named to three All-USFL teams and is a member of the USFL’s All-Time Team. He has been described as arguably the best defensive player (along with Reggie White) in the short history of the league. After the Stars won the 1985 USFL title, their head coach Jim Mora was signed on to coach the New Orleans Saints, and Mills followed his mentor. During his tenure with the Saints, starting in 1986, Mills was an anchor of the defense. He was a member of the vaunted “Dome Patrol,” the stellar linebacking corps that led a ferocious Saints defense in the early 1990s. Mills earned four Pro Bowl appearances with the Saints in 1987, 1988, 1991, and 1992. Mills’ coach in New Orleans, Jim Mora, who coached 15 seasons in the NFL, called Mills “The best player I ever coached.” Mills became a free agent at the end of the 1994 NFL season, and was signed by the expansion Carolina Panthers. Mills became a veteran leader for the young team, the only player to start every game during the Panthers’ first three seasons. An interception in a 1995 season game sealed the Panthers first ever victory in franchise history against the New York Jets. His career rebirth gave him a fifth Pro Bowl appearance in 1996 at the age of 37. Mills holds the NFL record for the oldest player to return a fumble for a touchdown (37 years, 174 days).

Mills played 12 seasons in the NFL and recorded 1,319 tackles, 20.5 sacks, 11 interceptions and four touchdowns while starting 173 of 181 games. Mills was named to the NFL All-Pro team three times, in 1991, 1992, and 1996. He was elected to the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame (1991), the Sports Hall of Fame of New Jersey (1993) and the New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame (1998). After retiring from play, Mills was inducted into the Carolina Panthers Hall of Honor. He became a Defensive Coaching Assistant for the Panthers in 1998, before being promoted to Linebackers coach in 1999. In August 2003, however, Mills was diagnosed with intestinal cancer. Though he was told he had only a few months to live, he underwent chemotherapy and radiation and continued to coach. He was an inspirational force in the Panthers’ post-season run to Super Bowl XXXVIII. His plea to “Keep Pounding” in an emotional speech before the Panthers’ victory over the Dallas Cowboys later became the name of a fund to sponsor cancer research programs. He continued to coach the team during the entire 2004 season, but after battling with cancer for almost two years, Mills died at his home in Charlotte, North Carolina on the morning of April 18, 2005. He was 45. Mills’ number 51 was retired by the Panthers at the start of the 2005 NFL season, making it the first number the franchise has retired . Mills was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2009, with his son Sam Mills III accepting the award on his father’s behalf. Sam Mills III currently holds the position of Quality Control – Defense coach for the Carolina Panthers. The speech inspired Nike, when awarded the contract for NFL jerseys starting in the 2012 NFL season, to feature “Keep Pounding” sewn on the inside collars of Panthers jerseys for the 2012 NFL season, in honour of the elder Mills.

 

Pug Lund (April 18, 1913 – May 26, 1994) was an American football player. Francis L. “Pug” Lund was born in Rice Lake, Wisconsin and attended Rice Lake High School. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1958.

 

Wilber Marshall (born April 18, 1962) is a former college and professional football player who was a linebacker in the National Football League (NFL) for four teams from 1984 until 1995. Marshall played college football for the University of Florida, was twice recognized as a consensus All-American, and is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. He was selected in the first round of the 1984 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears and played in Super Bowl XX. Marshall later was part of the Super Bowl XXVI-winning Washington Redskins team, and also played for the Houston Oilers and Arizona Cardinals before finishing his career with the New York Jets. Marshall was born in Titusville, Florida. He attended Astronaut High School in Titusville, where he was a Parade magazine All-American high school football player for the Astronaut War Eagles. Future fellow NFL star Cris Collinsworth played quarterback on Astronaut’s football team during Marshall’s freshman year. In 2007, twenty-nine years after he graduated from high school, the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) named Marshall to its “All-Century Team,” recognizing him as one of the thirty-three greatest Florida high school football players of the last 100 years.

Marshall accepted an athletic scholarship to attend the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida, where he was a star linebacker for coach Charley Pell’s Florida Gators football team from 1980 to 1983. He was the core of a ferocious Gators defense and finished his college career with 343 tackles, fifty-eight tackles for a loss, and twenty-three quarterback sacks. Marshall was a three-time first-team All-Southeastern Conference (SEC) selection (1981, 1982, 1983) and a two-time consensus first-team All-American (1982, 1983). He was a finalist for the Lombardi Award in both 1982 and 1983, and was named “National Defensive Player of the Year” by ABC Sports in 1983. The Gainesville Sun named him a first-team selection to the Gators “Team of the Century” in 1999, as well as the “Defensive Player of the Century.” Marshall was inducted into the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame as a “Gator Great,” and was named to the University of Florida’s Ring of Honor in 2007, joining Florida football greats Steve Spurrier, Jack Youngblood, Emmitt Smith and Danny Wuerffel. Marshall was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008. In one of a series of articles published by The Gainesville Sun in 2006, he was recognized as the No. 4 player among the top 100 all-time Florida Gators.

Marshall is perhaps best known as a significant member of two Super Bowl championship teams, the 1985 Bears and the 1991 Redskins. In 1985, the Bears, behind one of the most celebrated defenses in league history, finished the regular season 15–1, shut out both opponents in the playoffs, and beat the New England Patriots 46–10 in Super Bowl XX. In a 37–17 week 16 victory over the Detroit Lions, Marshall delivered a stunning hit on Lions’ quarterback Joe Ferguson that left Ferguson flat on his back, knocked out cold. But perhaps Marshall’s most memorable moment came in the 1985 NFC Championship Game, against the Los Angeles Rams. At the beginning of the fourth quarter, snow began to fall at Soldier Field, eliciting loud applause from the Bears fans in attendance. On the next play, Bears defensive end Richard Dent sacked Rams quarterback Dieter Brock, causing Brock to fumble the football. Marshall picked up the loose football and, alongside William “The Refrigerator” Perry, ran 52 yards through the falling snow. The Bears beat the Rams 24–0, and Marshall’s fumble return for touchdown continues to be the highlight from that game most replayed. Fox News Chicago also named that play to be the most iconic moment of the game, and of the season, as well. He also had a good performance in the Super Bowl, recording a sack and recovering a fumble. In 1986, Marshall recorded five interceptions and 5.5 sacks and was named first-team All-Pro for the first time.

In the spring of 1988, Marshall became the first NFL free agent in eleven years to sign with another team, agreeing to a 5-year, $6 million contract offer to play for the Washington Redskins, the team that had eliminated the Bears from the NFL playoffs in each of the previous two seasons. When the Bears declined to match the offer, the Redskins had to give them their two first-round draft picks in the next two NFL Drafts as compensation. Marshall won another championship ring with the Redskins in the 1991 season, when they beat the Buffalo Bills 37–24 in Super Bowl XXVI, and Marshall finished the game with several tackles and a sack. A week before that, he had a superb performance in the Redskins 41–10 win over the Detroit Lions, sacking Detroit quarterback Erik Kramer three times. Marshall was named second-team All-Pro following the 1991 season and was named first-team All-Pro for the second time in his career following the 1992 season. In 1993, Marshall reunited with Buddy Ryan, who had been the Bears’ defensive coordinator during Marshall’s first two seasons, signing a contract to play for the Houston Oilers. When Ryan left the Oilers to become head coach of the Arizona Cardinals in 1994, Marshall joined him there for one season. He then finished his NFL career in 1995 as a member of the New York Jets. In his twelve NFL seasons, Marshall recorded forty-five sacks and intercepted twenty-three passes, which he returned for 304 yards and three touchdowns. He also forced 24 fumbles and recovered sixteen, returning them for seventy yards and two touchdowns. He is among the few players who have recorded twenty sacks and twenty interceptions in their career.

Marshall has spent much of his life after football suffering from injuries he sustained during his professional career. His health has declined as the years progressed, but Marshall has refused to receive surgery to repair his injured spine, shoulder, and knees. Permanently disabled, Marshall’s days of battling other players have been replaced with days of fighting the NFL and the players’ union over a settlement pertaining to his injuries. In 2008, Marshall prevailed in his long-pending dispute over his entitlement to total disability benefits from the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Player Retirement Plan. However, by this time, he had filed for bankruptcy. He currently resides in Titusville, Florida.

Follow me!

Leave a Reply