Saying goodby to a real VFL, Johnny Mills

Published 4:48 pm Friday, December 16, 2022

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What a sad day in Elizabethton; Johnny Blair Mills passed away on Thursday, Dec. 15. We lost one of the best Cyclones and Tennessee Volunteers ever to walk onto a football field. Mills got to meet his Heavenly Father sometime early Thursday when he took his last breath upon this Earth. He was 77 years old, and his death came after an extended illness. Mills was the owner of Mills Greenhouse and Landscaping and after almost 40 years closed the Greenhouse part of the business in 2019 to spend more time with his grandsons.
Mills, who played for the Vols from 1963-66, broke numerous records that had stood since 1948. Mills set records for most yards in a game, most catches in a game, most total receptions in a season and several others; his last one stood until 2001. In 2005 Mills was named one of Tennessee’s greatest players.
In 1966 Mills was selected first team to the All-Southeastern Conference as an end, Johnny Majors won the award ten years earlier as a back. Mills caught 48 passes that year to lead the Vols with 725 yards. Mills played in the 1965 Bluebonnet Bowl in which the Vols won over Tulsa 27-6 and in 1966 he played in the Gator Bowl in which the Vols won 18-12 over Syracuse. In Mills’ four years at Tennessee, the Vols were 25-10. Mills was drafted by the San Diego Chargers.
Mills was born in Kentucky and came to Elizabethton when his dad opened an optometrist office in 1950. Johnny once said “everyone needs something that they can be well at, that people look up to, that they can achieve fame, and where people can brag on you. In my case it was football. Football was one thing I could do better in than most people.”
Mills was 6 feet and 3 inches tall and weighed 195 pounds and stood out. He played several positions for the Cyclones including quarterback. The most drastic change in his life came when his family made the three-hour and 45-minute ride to Knoxville and dropped him off to play football at the University of Tennessee.
Tennessee lost three games his senior year by a total of six points. Mills’ final game at Tennessee was on national TV. ABC sports was covering the game and millions were watching. Mills would have one of his best games against Kentucky that day and would score on a 72-yard touchdown pass, catching the ball on the 35 and running the rest of the way to the end zone. He totaled four touchdowns his senior year. In this game Mills would have a total of 225 yards receiving a record that would stand for 36 years. In 1967, Jan. 16 was named Johnny Mills Day in Elizabethton. He was labeled as Carter County’s number-one football player. Coach Doug Dickey of the Vols came to town, and Mills was rewarded for his hard work and his love of football for the Elizabethton Cyclones and the Tennessee Vols. Mills was a true VFL (Vol for Life). He was inducted into the Carter County Sports Hall of Fame in 2012.
Mills was also a member of the Northeast Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame and the Elizabethton High School Athletics Hall of Fame.
Mills was drafted by the San Diego Chargers of the American Football League, but a knee injury ended his playing career. After his playing career, he did some coaching at both the college and high school level before returning to his hometown.
He was the longtime owner of Mills Greehouse in Elizabethton and was well-respected by his peers.
The family will hold a gathering to remember his life at a later date.

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