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Michael Mills giving an accep­tance speech at the 2018 Charger Hall of Fame Cer­emony on behalf of the 1969 football team. facebook.

The 1969 Hillsdale College Chargers were in the thick of their football season. It was October. Playoffs would soon be approaching and with Frank “Muddy” Waters as the head coach, expec­ta­tions were high. But it was in October junior defensive Michael Mills thought he’d never again see his coach, his team­mates, or anyone else for that matter.

On Oct. 7, 1969, Mills suf­fered a trau­matic brain injury during a game and was pro­nounced dead on the field against Northern Michigan Uni­versity. He was rushed to St. Luke’s Hos­pital in Mar­quette, Michigan, where doctors attempted to rescue him. While his body was present, Mills’ spirit was not. He spent 22 hours in Heaven, where Jesus told him his journey wasn’t fin­ished.

“He told me it was not my time to stay and that I would be fully restored when I returned,” Mills wrote in his book, ‘Amazing Love, Extra­or­dinary Gifts.’

From there, the mir­acles unfolded.

“I saw my body from above in an intensive care bed, with my parents and Coach Muddy Waters in the next room,” he wrote. “The most amazing and one of the clearest mem­ories I have to this day is that there was an Angel sitting on the end of my bed, at my feet.”

As Mills returned to his physical body, he dis­covered he was par­a­lyzed from the neck down, and he lacked all of his senses, except for hearing and speaking. He could neither see nor feel any­thing, but he could hear, and soon, he heard words of comfort and concern from his parents and coach.

“I boldly pro­fessed to them that I was going to walk out of the hos­pital in 38 days! That is what the Lord had told me!” Mills wrote.

It took four days for the proper staff and equipment to be assembled for the ensuing oper­a­tions Mills would endure. On Oct. 11, brain surgery finally began. Despite some com­pli­ca­tions, the oper­ation was suc­cessful and Mills recovered well.

“It is here in the late afternoon of the day after surgery, less than 24 hours from surgery, that I was able to sit up with com­plete restoration of my entire body, of my earthly senses, and my sight,” Mills wrote. “My smile of joy was per­ma­nently affixed and growing on my face by the Lord Jesus Christ forever!”

Mills was on track to walk out of the hos­pital in 38 days.

“Every morning when I wake up — and I mean every morning for the last 50 years — I have put my feet on the floor and thanked the Lord for the day in front of me and asked him what I’m doing for him today,” Mills said.

God has used Mills in dif­ferent ways since his new life began. Whether he was working in ath­letics or pol­itics, Mills keeps two things at the center of every­thing: his faith and the prin­ciples he learned during his time as a Charger.

He returned to Hillsdale in the fall of 1970, but this time not as a student-athlete. To replace the time he would have spent on the football field, Coach “Muddy” Waters appointed him to be the college’s first full-time sports infor­mation director. He also served as sports editor of The Col­legian, majored in business and eco­nomics, and afterward worked in college ath­letics for  30 years.

After working at The Col­legian, Mills worked for the Hillsdale Daily News as the sports editor, but not for long. By 1974, Waters was being recruited to found the ath­letic program at Saginaw Valley State Uni­versity and he wanted Mills to help him. Of course, Mills said yes to the job.

“Muddy was the win­ningest football coach in the U.S. out of all divi­sions,” Mills said. “All of us that played for him became like his sons.”

From there Mills trans­ferred to Col­orado State Uni­versity to be the assistant ath­letic director and teach a jour­nalism class. Mills said one of his jobs was to figure out how to sup­plement funding for women’s sports after Title IX required col­leges and uni­ver­sities to finan­cially support men’s and women’s sports equally.

“I applied my Hillsdale entre­pre­neurial skills and earned revenue for the NCAA,” Mills said. “In 1976 – 77 we were giving schol­ar­ships to girls who couldn’t chew gum and dribble a bas­ketball at the same time. I had to figure out how to gen­erate revenue off of bas­ketball, football, and some­times hockey.”

Mills not only learned business and eco­nomics at Hillsdale, but his job as the sports infor­mation director taught him to com­mu­nicate. Hillsdale’s current sports infor­mation director Brad Monas­tiere said the ability to com­mu­nicate is the most important thing his job has taught him.

“[My job] has evolved so much, just in the time I’ve been here since 2005. The biggest key that this job teaches you is the ability to com­mu­nicate,” he said. “ If you’re a good com­mu­ni­cator, you’re suc­cessful in this job, and it can translate to many other lines of work as well.”

For Mills, his ability to com­mu­nicate led to many more oppor­tu­nities. He was a pro­ducer and director of radio broad­casts statewide and was able to increase revenue for the NCAA by $250,000.

It was also at Col­orado State where Mills ran the NCAA Final Four tour­nament in 1979 when bas­ketball legends Magic Johnson and Larry Bird faced each other in the finals.

“The NCAA recruits 30 [sports infor­mation directors] and media guys to run various aspects because there’s a ton of media to host,” Mills said. “I was in charge of the upper press box. There were about 800 people cov­ering the event. That par­ticular event was the largest audience in NCAA in sports in general for a tele­vision audience.”

After his time at Col­orado State, Mills returned to Lansing to work as the Exec­utive Vice Pres­ident of the Michigan Chamber Foun­dation. Here he worked with Hillsdale’s chairman and pro­fessor of eco­nomics, Charles Van Eaton. Together they wrote a book about pri­va­ti­zation in Michigan: “Revi­tal­izing the American City: A Market Per­spective for Detroit.”

“Dr. Van Eaton was also an ordained min­ister from whom I gained a great deal of wisdom,” Mills said. “This entire journey has been based on the Hillsdale prin­ciples of Christ-like values and self-gov­er­nance.”

Like Muddy, Van Eaton encouraged Mills to be a man of good faith and char­acter. After his deadly expe­rience on the football field, Mills says Hillsdale is one of the only places he could imagine allowing him to share his story.

“I even had pastors tell me it was like a martian story and they told me not to tell many people,” Mills said. “But my boldness is God’s, not mine.”

He said God pro­vided a way for Mills to use his expe­rience in October 1969 for a greater purpose. Former MLB pitcher for the Dodgers Carl Erskine worked with the Fel­lowship of Christian Ath­letes orga­ni­zation and invited Mills to speak to a group of injured ath­letes and their parents.

“I prayed with them to have con­fi­dence and that God does what God does and without faith, they’re not going to get through it,” Mills said. “I gave 85 speeches a year all over the state.”

According to Mills, Hillsdale College and Charger football gave Mills his start, his story, and his smile. It is because of this special place and those special people Mills has enjoyed this life journey.

“We went to class together, we ate together, and every­thing else,” quar­terback Mike Harding ‘70 said in a video interview. “To this day we all stay in touch with each other.”

Mills called his time as a Charger “the most rewarding expe­rience.”

“They’re like brothers, and Muddy was like dad,” he said.

This special team was inducted into the Hillsdale College Sports Hall of Fame in 2018.

“Muddy would tell friends the 1969 team might have been the deepest of all his teams,” Monas­tiere said. “It would be the first Hillsdale team to qualify for the NAIA playoffs in nine years. It would allow just 9.5 points per game. It would outscore its oppo­nents by an average of 25 points per game in its eight wins.”

Mills is now cur­rently working as a chaplain at the Huron House in Port Huron, Michigan.

“We take in guys that are coming out of jail and work on trans­forming them to get them off their habits of drugs or alcohol,” he said. “I just sell them Jesus to fill the hole they used to fill with alcohol.”

Each day is a new chance for Michael Mills to live the life he thought he’d never have again, and he is living it with full faith and a great purpose.

  • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

    What an amazing story. I missed this article when it was first posted, caught it on the rebound. Great writing!