Monday’s NFL game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Buffalo Bill was postponed after Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest on the field. In a similar scenario 51 years back, a Detroit Lions receiver suffered from cardiac arrest on the field. The NFL ended their game and rushed him to the hospital. He was later declared dead.
On October 24, 1971 the Detroit Lions played the Chicago Bears at Tigers Stadium. Chuck Hughes, 28, a former star in Texas Western College’s college football, entered the match in the fourth quarter to replace an injured player. As the Lions trailed by just 28 yards, 23 points, the Lions began to drive towards a win late in the quarter. Hughes was able to catch a 32-yard touchdown pass.
Three plays later, as Lions quarterback Greg Landry threw a pass dropped in the end zone by tight end Charlie Sanders, Hughes started running back to the huddle. Hughes began to have convulsions and collapsed around the 20 yard line.
Bears Football Hall-of-Fame middle linebacker Dick Butkus frantically alerted the officials and the sideline, prompting the Lions’ and Bears’ doctors and trainers to attempt to save Hughes. After the match, he was transported to Henry Ford Hospital where he died 50 minutes later.
Hughes was taken to the airport. The game continued. He died due to coronary thrombosis. Sharon Leah, his wife, survived him, along with their son Brandon Shane (almost 2-years-old).
Interviewed in 2013, Sharon Hughes, then 68 and serving as a bus driver and librarian, recalled how she loved her husband’s smile, saying, “He was confident, that boy. … He was gorgeous to me.”
“The players used to say he was a friendly, Western kind of guy,”Sharon also added. “He had a good sense of humor and laughed a lot. He had a really strong giggle. His sister had the same giggle. If he got tickled he’d giggle.”
Seven weeks before he died, in the Lions’ final preseason game against Bills, Hughes had collapsed in the locker room after the game and was taken to Henry Ford Hospital, but doctors thought he had an injury to his spleen, lung or kidney. Hughes was reported to have a fever when he left hospital.
Henry Ford Hospital was sued by Sharon Hughes in 1972. The suit settled for an undisclosed sum in 1974.
Hughes set records at his college which still stand; among them are the most all-purpose yards in a single game, 401 in 1965, and the most yards per reception for a single game, 34.9, also in 1965, which is also an NCAA record.
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