Fields, Mills both battled cancer in past year
BALTIMORE -- Sam Mills and Mark Fields of the Carolina Panthers share a bond unlike most coaches and players.
Both have battled cancer over the past 18 months. Mills has remained on the job as the Carolina linebackers coach while Fields made the Pro Bowl in 2004 at outside linebacker after sitting out the previous year.
They were among several in the NFL honored at the 27th Annual Ed Block Courage Awards on Tuesday night. One player from every team is chosen by his teammates for courage and sportsmanship.
Mills was presented the first Johnny Unitas Tops in Courage Award. Doctors discovered he had colon cancer during training camp in 2003, but Mills kept working. He inspired the team during its surprise run to the Super Bowl that season against the New England Patriots.
Fields sat out that season after a diagnosis of Hodgkin's disease. He admitted it was painful to be sidelined while the Panthers advanced to the Super Bowl.
"You don't know about cancer, so they just kind of let me work my way through it," Fields said. "The bottom line is, can you still play football? You have to go out and prove people wrong, and that's what I did."
Mills, who played 12 years in the NFL, addressed the Panthers before the 2003 playoffs and emphasized that they "keep pounding" no matter what. The players adopted the slogan, wearing bracelets bearing the words.
"When you're dealing with cancer, it's more than just a game," Mills said. "You're dealing with life. They told me I had three months to a year to live, and when you're told that, you have no choice but to keep pounding, and I'm still pounding."
Tampa Bay fullback Mike Alstott returned after surgery for a herniated disc that compressed spinal cord. He missed the final 12 games in 2003, but returned to play 14 games this season and regain his starting job.
"It was a scary situation," Alstott said. "It was a situation where it was, hey, football game or life after football. But in my mind, I was coming back."
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press