Sam Mills, who led the Philadelphia Stars to two USFL championships in the early 1980s and later became a five-time Pro Bowler with the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers, is one of 15 modern-era finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2020.
Mills is one of seven players who have made the final 15 for the first time. The other six: safeties Troy Polamalu and LeRoy Butler, wide receivers Reggie Wayne and Torry Holt, linebacker Zach Thomas, and defensive tackle Bryant Young.
Polamalu and Wayne are first-year eligible players.
The other eight modern-era finalists on the list of 15 announced Thursday by the hall: safeties Steve Atwater and John Lynch; offensive linemen Tony Boselli, Alan Faneca, and Steve Hutchinson, running back Edgerrin James, wide receiver Isaac Bruce, and defensive lineman Richard Seymour.
Former Eagles running back Ricky Watters was one of 25 semifinalists, but he didn’t make the cut to 15.
Ten senior players, two coaches, and three contributors also will be part of the class of 2020. They will be selected next week by a special panel. Former Eagles players Harold Carmichael and Al Wistert are among the 20 senior finalists. Dick Vermeil is one of eight coaching finalists.
Mills, who died of cancer in 2005 at the age of 46, played 12 years in the NFL after his three-year stint with the Stars. He spent nine years with the Saints and three with the Panthers.
He earned his first Pro Bowl nod in his second season with the Saints and became a key member of one of the league’s top defenses.
In 1995, at the age of 36, he signed with the expansion Carolina Panthers and helped them win a division title and make it to the NFC championship game in just their second year. He earned the last of his five Pro Bowl invitations in ’96 at the age of 37.
Mills was named to the NFL’s 1990s team of the decade. After he retired as a player, he spent seven years as an assistant coach with the team. There is a statue of Mills in front of the Panthers’ stadium.
During his valiant battle with cancer, he would tell the Panthers to “keep on pounding.’’ It became the team’s battle cry. Before every home game, the Panthers pick someone to pound a huge drum.
Mills, who was just 5-9, was cut by both the NFL’s Cleveland Browns and the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts before signing with the Philadelphia Stars. He was the best player in the short-lived league, which also featured Reggie White.
Former Stars coach Jim Mora, who later coached Mills in New Orleans, called Mills “the best player I ever coached.
“He was the ideal player to coach,’’ Mora said. “He was an amazing guy. In football, low man wins. He could step up and get leverage on an offensive lineman coming out to block him or a back coming out to block him. And he had the strength and technique to stuff people and make the play. He was an incredible football player.’’