Carolina Panthers’ uniforms to honor Sam Mills legacy

The Carolina Panthers’ uniforms have barely changed at all for the 2012 season, but there is one subtle change that you won’t see from the sideline. You won’t see it on your HDTV. But you will know it is there, and that’s what matters.

The Panthers will have the words “Keep Pounding” – a team slogan that originated with a speech their late, great linebacker and assistant coach Sam Mills gave to the team a little more than eight years ago – sewn into the collar of every jersey from now on.

Nike, which has replaced Reebok as the NFL’s official jersey supplier, debuted new uniforms for all 32 NFL teams Tuesday and came up with the brilliant idea to put “Keep Pounding” inside the collar.

Honoring Mills on the jersey was then seized upon by Panther officials, who want especially their more recent fans and players to understand the legacy Mills left when he died of cancer in 2005. Mills is also the only former player enshrined in the Panthers’ hall of honor and there is a statue of him standing outside Bank of America Stadium.

The team already had a mural of Mills painted in their new weight room in 2011 with the words “Keep Pounding” below it and an explanation as to what they mean. This will be a more public way to convey the same message.

“This is another way to help people understand our history and the important part Sam Mills played in it,” said Panther spokesman Charlie Dayton.

The story of “Keep Pounding” mixes tragedy and victory. Mills was a star linebacker for the first few Panther teams and started every game from 1995-97. His interception of a shovel pass in 1995 led to Carolina’s first-ever victory. After retiring, he became an assistant coach for the team.

In 2003, Mills was diagnosed with cancer. He kept working while undergoing long rounds of chemotherapy. The night before the Panthers’ home playoff game against Dallas following the 2003 season, Mills gave a memorable speech to the team.

“When I found out I had cancer, there were two things I could do – quit or keep pounding,” Mills told the team at one point. “I’m a fighter. I kept pounding. You’re fighters, too. Keep pounding!”

Mills and then-Panthers linebacker Mark Fields – who was undergoing his own struggle with cancer and sat out that season – then latched onto the “Keep Pounding” slogan as a battle cry. The two ended up doing a lot of good in the Carolinas, raising money and awareness to fight cancer.

Mills died of cancer in 2005. His son, Sam Mills III, remains an assistant coach with the Panthers. And his words – “Keep Pounding” – will now appear as a message every Sunday, for every Panther player, just before they pull on their own jerseys and go out to fulfill Mills’ words.