Chuck Hughes’ death 50 years ago is NFL tragedy we pray to never see again

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Fifty years agone Sunday, the NFL saw its worst imaginable nightmare play retired connected the tract astatine Tiger Stadium. For each week before, and each week since, the men and women who tally the league ought to accidental a soundless supplication that it has ne'er been repeated. Because erstwhile you deliberation astir it each week before, and each week since, could person yielded a akin tragedy.

Chuck Hughes was 28 years aged that afternoon, a backup receiver for the Detroit Lions. On the aboveground helium seemed arsenic helium was: an extraordinarily acceptable athlete, bulletproof, anxious and consenting to sorb the rough-and-tumble laws of NFL crippled days.

It was a mild day successful Detroit. The Bears, 3-2 connected the season, had conscionable taken a 28-23 pb connected the 4-1 Lions successful the 4th quarter. The Lions took possession. Larry Walton, 1 of Detroit’s starting receivers, busted up an ankle arsenic the Lions tried to commencement a game-winning thrust precocious successful the game. Into the crippled trotted Chuck Hughes.

It was Hughes’ 5th twelvemonth successful the NFL. The Eagles had drafted him successful the 4th circular retired of Texas-El Paso successful 1967, and he’d caught six passes for a full of 68 yards successful 3 years successful Philadelphia. Traded to the Lions successful 1970, he’d caught 8 balls his archetypal twelvemonth arsenic a Lion. Most of his clip was spent connected peculiar teams. He’d yet to drawback a shot successful the ’71 season.

That changed immediately. Lions backmost Greg Landry recovered Hughes for 32 yards, mounting up the Lions astatine the Chicago 37-yard-line. The assemblage started to stir. Hughes was clobbered connected the play — tackled by 2 Bears defenders, 1 high, 1 debased — but roseate rapidly and jogged backmost to the huddle.

A mates of plays later, Landry tried to deed choky extremity Charlie Sanders successful the extremity portion but the walk was breached up. Hughes, serving arsenic a decoy, had breached his way abbreviated astatine the 15-yard line. As helium headed backmost to the huddle, his eyes locked concisely with Dick Butkus, the Bears’ fearsome mediate linebacker.

A 2nd later, those eyes rolled backmost successful Hughes’ head.

He collapsed to the turf, clutching his chest.

In the moment, the Bears thought helium mightiness person been faking an injury, which successful those days was a not-uncommon practice. But it was Butkus who instantly realized this was nary gamesmanship. He frantically began to question for aesculapian attention. Hughes’ arms were astatine his side, his helmet turned sideways. Trainers and doctors from some teams ran to Hughes’ side, arsenic did an anesthesiologist who’d been attending the crippled arsenic a fan.

Chuck HughesWhile the helmet of Chuck Hughes lies adjacent spot wherever helium fell successful the closing infinitesimal of play, Lions squad doc Edwin Gis bends implicit Hughes, astatine right. AP

Hughes was removed from the tract connected a stretcher — an representation captured, hauntingly, and printed successful hundreds of newspapers the adjacent day. He was hustled into an ambulance. His wife, Sharon, joined him there, saw his arms hanging limply, saw that helium had turned a sickening shadiness of blue. Doctors astatine the infirmary frantically tore disconnected Hughes’ jersey and his enarthrosis pads.

At 5:41 p.m., Hughes was pronounced dead.

“It’s similar being successful a clip warp,” Sharon told newsman Les Carpenter successful 2013. “You cognize you are determination but you are floating successful the ether. I don’t know, what is it? Denial? Here I’m 25, he’s 28, you deliberation you tin bash thing you privation to and you ne'er see the alternative, which is death. Death took spot unexpectedly; you person a nonaccomplishment of consciousness. You are conscionable floating.”

An autopsy was performed, and it said 1 of Hughes’ arteries was 75 percent clogged and that a humor clot had breached escaped — presumably from the deed connected his past drawback — and became trapped successful the artery, cutting disconnected humor to the bosom muscle. It besides showed that he’d apt had different bosom onslaught — earlier successful the season, Hughes had been hospitalized for 4 days with what was diagnosed arsenic a spleen injury.

Hughes’ decease permanently affected the players connected the tract that day. There person been different unspeakable injuries. There has ne'er been different decease connected the field. It is not thing shot players privation to ponder arsenic they violently collide with 1 different dozens of times per game. But they recognize the dangers. They recognize the imaginable consequence.

Fifty years agone Sunday, each of that played retired connected a mild, muggy time successful Detroit. May that ne'er hap again.

Vac’s Whack’s

It is hard to cipher each the lives Dick Vitale has made amended done his tireless foundation enactment done the years, notably done the Jimmy V Fund for crab research. It’s clip for that karma to bounce backmost and assistance him now, as helium fights his ain crab battle. Dickie V isn’t conscionable 1 of the large characters successful sports, but 1 of the large people. He’s worthy rooting for.


Monday marks 35 years since Mookie Wilson’s grounder trickled done Bill Buckner’s legs. Recently, astatine their location successful Bamberg, S.C., the full Wilson household watched that infinitesimal unneurotic for the archetypal time.

MetsMookie WilsonChristopher Pasatieri

“My girls were 2 and 4 successful 1986,” Mookie said, “so they ne'er saw maine play. We watched the movie together, and they saw their dada was a portion of Mets history. It was a bully infinitesimal to acquisition arsenic a family.”


The Islanders bash recognize that these games count, right?


You whitethorn oregon whitethorn not person noticed that a definite squad from St. Bonaventure, N.Y., snuck into the AP hoops rankings this week (at No. 23) for the archetypal clip successful much than 50 years. That is the past I volition talk of that definite squad from St. Bonaventure, N.Y., for a portion (EDITOR’S NOTE: I thin to prevarication a batch astir this subject).

Whack Back astatine Vac

Richard Siegelman: Though it has annoyed the heck retired of maine for 30-plus years, I anticipation that earlier Steve Somers does his past WFAN “Schmooze,” helium gets the accidental to utter his 10 millionth “And again …”

Vac: Anyone who does thing arsenic long, and arsenic well, arsenic Mr. Somers has astatine the FAN since Day 1 deserves each the accolades helium has coming between present and his last sign-off.


Dick Schlott: As a Knicks instrumentality who goes backmost to the days of Sweetwater, Tricky Dick and Harry the Horse, this is 1 amusive squad to watch. Maybe a superstar abbreviated of a championship, but a squad that volition springiness its each all crippled with an outstanding coach!

Vac: What the Knicks needed astir of each was to springiness their fans an contiguous buzz to beryllium excited about. If thing else, they person done that.


@ucfdk: People forgot what New York is similar with a bully Knicks team. Nothing successful New York sports compares to it. Not the Yankees oregon the Giants. It’s a hoops municipality and their hoops squad yet came back.

@MikeVacc: As I was saying …


Robert Lewis: The caller Yankees ngo connection should beryllium the following: “Be competitive, marque the playoffs, complaint the fans astronomical prices for everything, marque oodles of money, and if we don’t marque oregon triumph the World Series … ohio well.” That’s a acold outcry from: “World Series oregon bust.”

Vac: I ne'er thought I’d miss the hyper-confident, hyper-arrogant, hyper-bulletproof mentation of Yankees fans but … I truly bash miss them.