Sam Mills should be first Panther in HOF

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The late Sam Mills would be a lock for the Pro Football Hall of Fame if selections were based solely on character.

Mills, also a better-than-average linebacker with five Pro Bowl selections, is on the list of 126 modern-era nominees for the upcoming Class of 2014. He's been there before, but I thought it was worth mentioning again after the list was released on Thursday.

Mills died of intestinal cancer in 2005 while serving as an assistant coach for the Panthers. Although small at 5-foot-9, he embodied what Carolina owner Jerry Richardson wanted his franchise to be when it began in 1995.

No Carolina player has had a bigger heart, or made a bigger impact. That's why there's a statue of him outside Bank of America Stadium.

"I remember him being the toughest little man I've ever seen in my life," former New Orleans Saints teammate Rickey Jackson said at the time of Mills' death. "He was Mighty Mouse. He'd hit you as hard as he could every time he hit you."

No Carolina player is in the NFL shrine. Mills should be the first.