‘We are carrying on his legacy’: Melanie Mills keeps her husband’s memory pounding

CHARLOTTE — The legacy of Sam Mills touched so many lives, on and off the football field.

When Mills’ career as a linebacker for the Carolina Panthers began more than two decades ago, no one knew the impact the hall of famer would have.

Not even his wife, Melanie Mills. She spoke with Channel 9′s DaShawn Brown about the everlasting influence of her late husband.

Its nearly impossible to walk around Bank of America Stadium -- the home of the Carolina Panthers -- and not be reminded of what Sam Mills means to the organization.

And of course -- the “Keep Pounding” rallying cry he sparked years ago.

In the midst of the moments and memories, Melanie Mills has steadily embraced her role as the keeper of her husband’s legacy.

“I think if he could’ve spoken at (the age of) one he would’ve said he wanted to be a football player,” Melanie said. “So, I think his love for it, his passion, his determination and his stubbornness just kept him in the game.”

Sam Mills captured the attention of the football world. First, fighting through criticism that he was too short, then that he was too old.

Only to battle through every word, culminating in a hall-of-fame career.

“I got the call, it was actually from my oldest son, Sam,” Melanie said of her husband’s induction. “He called and put us on a three, four-way call and then ‘He’s in!’ And we knew exactly what he was talking about. It was just so exciting. … It was exciting to hear in his voice and in the other kids. … It was just a wonderful, wonderful feeling to know that we finally made it in.”

The former linebacker and coach has been a foundational piece in Panthers history.

Sam joined the franchise in its first year. He helped lead them to their first win.

Perhaps most notably, he is know for the people he inspired during his fight with cancer.

In 2003, he famously encouraged the team to “Keep Pounding.”

“I wasn’t even aware that he gave the speech until it became public,” Melanie said. “He wasn’t that kind of man who would say, ‘Hey, I made the speech with the player …’ It was none of that.”

Sam’s message still carries meaning.

“I too turn back to ‘Keep Pounding,’” she said. “Everybody has a point where they want to give up. And there’s something to that. … Even if you think that dying was the failure. It’s not.

“Sam may have passed, but his children are still here, we are carrying on his legacy as well, so there is no failure.”

Years since his passing, Melanie says Sam didn’t know the impact his rallying cry had, but he knows now.

“I think he was just speaking from his heart, telling his truth and hoping that it made some kind of a difference,” she said.

This month, Melanie addressed the players on this iteration of the Panthers’ team.

When asked what she told them, Melanie said she echoed Sam’s message telling the team never to quit and to always give it their all.

(WATCH BELOW: Fourth annual ‘Keep Pounding’ day of service honors Panthers legend Sam Mills)