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Carolina Panthers Find Inspiration From Sam Mills' Legacy

By Shawn Lealos

The Carolina Panthers prepare for the second Super Bowl in the team's history and the first in the Cam Newton era. With the experience a new one, many of the Panthers players are enjoying Super Bowl festivities, and that includes a lot of media attention. During the week, players have been asked questions about a number of things, including Cam Newton's skin color, Michael Oher's life story, and an inspirational story of the Panthers' most legendary player. 

Carolina Panthers Legend Sam Mills Inspires Team

There have been a number of great players who played for the Carolina Panthers in the team's short history. Names like Cam Newton, Steve Smith and Julius Peppers made names for themselves as some of the best players to ever play in the city, but one player meant so much to the team that they built a statue in his honor. That man was Sam Mills.

Mills was a 5-9 middle linebacker from a small college who got his start in the USFL before getting a chance to play in the NFL, where he was a five-time Pro Bowl defensive star. When the Panthers went to the playoffs in 2004, Mills, now the Panthers' linebackers coach, asked to speak to the players and talked about his cancer diagnosis. 

"When I found out I had cancer, there were two things I could do: quit or keep pounding," Mills told the team that day. "I'm a fighter. I kept pounding. You're fighters, too. Keep pounding!"

The Panthers made it to the Super Bowl that year, and Mills died three months later. Today, as the Panthers head back to their second Super Bowl, the team has "Keep Pounding" inscribed on the inside collar of their uniforms and it explains the giant drum that the players, and even owner Jerry Richardson, pounds at games.

Cam Newton Talks Race at the Quarterback Position

Cam Newton will answer a lot of questions heading into the Super Bowl. He will be asked about his arrogance, his joyful playing style, and his penchant for dabbing. However, the most controversial thing that Newton will be asked is about the color of his skin and the position he plays. Newton is ready for it as well, as he was already asked about being a black quarterback in the Super Bowl. 

“I’m an African-American quarterback," Newton said. "That may scare a lot of people because they haven’t seen nothing that they can compare me to.” That was, at one time, true, but isn't so much now. Russell Wilson made it to the last two Super Bowls and won one of them with the Seattle Seahawks. Doug Williams also led the Washington Redskins to a Super Bowl win in 1988.

Michael Oher Says Cam Newton Saved His Career

Another interesting story coming into the Super Bowl is the career of Michael Oher. For most of his career, Oher has avoided talking too much about his life, which was put up for the world to see in the movie "The Blind Side." However, he seems to feel more comfortable about talking about it now that he is in Carolina.

Oher's career almost ended when the Baltimore Ravens released him after the 2013 season and his next stop in Tennessee was a failure. He won a Super Bowl with the Ravens, and said that his second chance to win a Super Bowl is all thanks to Cam Newton. It was Newton who texted Oher after the Titans released him and said that he needed him as a blocker and pushed to get Oher signed.

"This kid is a warrior," said Leigh Anne Tuohy, who Sandra Bullock portrayed in "The Blind Side." "Despite what everyone has said about him, he has played his a** off and he has gotten back to where he always should have been."

Shawn S. Lealos is a freelance writer who graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2000 with a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism. He writes for a variety of national publications and has over 15 years of sports journalism experience. Follow Shawn on Twitter @sslealos.

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