50 years ago, Detroit Lions’ Chuck Hughes died of heart attack during game

·2 min read

A somber anniversary in NFL history on Oct. 24. In 1971, the Detroit Lions’ Chuck Hughes had a heart attack and died. It remains the only death of a player during a game.

Chuck Hughes was a fourth-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles out of Texas Western — now UTEP. He had been offered a scholarship to the school by Bum Phillips in 1962. However, Phillips left after one season and the new coach rescinded the offer. Hughes became a walk-on.

Hughes, one of 16 children caught 17 passes for 349 yards in one college game. He set numerous UTEP records, including most receptions, receiving yards, and all-purpose yards in a game.

The Lions were playing host to the Chicago Bears on that fateful Sunday. Hughes, a 5-foot-11, 173-pound wide receiver, had caught one pass for 32 yards.

Per Yahoo.com:

What most people don’t know about the only player to die on the field in an NFL game is that Chuck Hughes actually had two heart attacks. The first came in the Lions’ final preseason game, seven weeks before he died. Detroit was playing the Buffalo Bills and late in the game the Lions ran a flurry of plays to Hughes. On one of those plays he took a shot to his ribs and side. He walked off the field and stood on the sideline. But after the game, he collapsed in the locker room. In an eerie foreshadowing of what was to come at the end of the following month, he was raced by ambulance to Henry Ford Hospital.

AP Photo/Jim Mone

Per Vintagedetroit.com:

Hughes ran a down-and-in, but Landry passed instead to tight end Charlie Sanders, who dropped the ball near the Chicago goal line. A collective groan went up in the stands. Most eyes were on Sanders when Hughes, returning to the huddle, suddenly clutched his chest and collapsed around the Bears’ 20-yard line.

Lying face down in the vicinity of deep left field, Hughes twitched uncontrollably on the soggy turf. Dick Butkus stood over him. Some thought Hughes was faking an injury, or that Chicago’s bestial middle linebacker had finally killed someone on the field. But Butkus immediately saw something was wrong and frantically signaled to the sidelines. Trainers and doctors raced out. A physician charged down from the stands. As more than 54,000 people silently watched, doctors beat their fists on Chuck Hughes’ chest.

It took until 50 minutes after the game for doctors to declare him dead from a heart attack caused by blood clots.

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