For the second year in a row, Sam Mills has made it to the doorstep of Canton.
The former Philadelphia Stars linebacker is one of 15 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2021.
Former Eagles cornerback Eric Allen, who was a semifinalist this year for the first time since becoming eligible for the Hall in 2006, did not make the cut from 25 to 15.
Four players in their first year of eligibility – quarterback Peyton Manning, wide receiver Calvin Johnson, defensive back Charles Woodson, and defensive end Jared Allen – are among the finalists.
Two others who have been eligible previously – cornerback Ronde Barber and linebacker Clay Matthews Jr. – are finalists for the first time. The other eight finalists are offensive linemen Alan Faneca and Tony Boselli, wide receivers Torry Holt and Reggie Wayne, safeties John Lynch and LeRoy Butler, defensive lineman Richard Seymour, and linebacker Zach Thomas. This is Lynch’s eighth time as a finalist. Faneca has been a finalist six times and Boselli five times.
The Hall’s 48 selectors usually meet at the site of the Super Bowl the day before the game to discuss the finalists and choose the new class. But because of the pandemic, the committee will hold a virtual meeting on Jan. 19 to vote. No more than five modern-era finalists can be put in. The selectors also will vote on three coach, contributor, and senior finalists – Tom Flores, Bill Nunn, and Drew Pearson.
Mills, whose nickname was “Field Mouse” because he stood just 5-foot-9, was the most dominant defensive player in the United States Football League’s short history. And keep in mind that Reggie White played in the USFL. Signed by the Stars after getting cut by NFL and CFL teams because of his size, he led them to two titles in the spring league’s three years of existence.
After the USFL folded, Mills played 12 seasons in the NFL with the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers. He was a three-time All-Pro and five-time Pro Bowler. Mills died of cancer in 2005 at the age of 45. The Panthers built a statue of Mills in front their stadium.
“He was the best player I ever coached,” said Jim Mora, who coached Mills with the Stars and later with the New Orleans Saints. It should be noted that Mora also coached Manning, who is a lock to get in this year, and Hall of Famers Rickey Jackson and Willie Roaf.
“In football, low man wins,” Mora said. “Sam 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.”
While Allen didn’t make the final 15, the fact that he was one of 25 finalists this year for the first time was significant. Mills was a semifinalist four times before he finally crashed the final 15.
Allen, a 1988 second-round pick of the Eagles out of Arizona State, played 14 years in the league, including the seven he spent in Philadelphia as part of one of the greatest defenses in league history with Hall of Famer Reggie White, Jerome Brown, Clyde Simmons, Seth Joyner, Andre Waters, and Wes Hopkins. White, Brown, Waters, and Hopkins are now deceased.
The 55-year-old Allen, who also played three years with the Saints and four with the Oakland Raiders, was first- or second-team All-Pro three times and a six-time Pro Bowl selection. He is tied for 21st in NFL career interceptions with 54, and had five or more interceptions six times, including a career-high eight in his second year with Buddy Ryan in 1989.
Allen is tied for eighth in NFL history with eight interception returns for touchdowns, including four in 1993 with the Eagles and three in 2000 with the Raiders at the age of 35.
The Eagles recorded 20 or more interceptions in six of Allen’s seven seasons in Philadelphia. They held teams to an average of 17.7 points and 199.1 passing yards per game in those seven seasons.