Fifty years ago, Lions WR Chuck Hughes died of heart attack during game

Chuck Hughes

In 102 years of NFL football, only one player ever died during a game. Fifty years ago tomorrow, Lions receiver Chuck Hughes collapsed and died.

The 28-year-old fell on the way back to the huddle after a play late in Detroit’s game against the Bears. Just a few plays earlier, Hughes had caught a 32-yard pass.

Efforts to revive him on the field failed. Hughes died of a heart attack caused by blood clots.

As explained in a comprehensive story about Hughes posted by Yahoo Sports in 2013, he actually had suffered a heart attack during the preseason. Following a game against the Bills, Hughes was taken by ambulance after collapsing in the locker room.

He then spent four days in the hospital. Hughes’s family said in 2013 that doctors thought he had an injury to his spleen, lung, or kidney. He later said he had sharp pains in his stomach and chest, but that no one could determine the cause. He insisted on continuing to play.

A half-century later, improvements in medicine and enhanced sensitivity to player health and safety likely would lead to a different outcome. That makes the sudden death of Chuck Hughes, which happened on October 24, 1971, no less tragic.

11 responses to “Fifty years ago, Lions WR Chuck Hughes died of heart attack during game

  1. Thanks for bringing this up. I remember it like it was a just few years ago. I didn’t realize he had a heart attack in the pre-season.

  2. I remember this like it was yesterday. I remember Dick Butkus saying he knew Chuck Hughes wasn’t faking an injury for a timeout because of the way his eyes rolled back in his head and he (Dick Butkus) was frantically waving to the sideline for help. It was a rainy muddy game and it’s sad that Chuck Hughes was taken so soon.

  3. It’s a good thing that in the modern era of football nothing like this could happen, because of masking pain though injections and pills.

  4. The Lions retired his #85 as a sign of respect. For some reason it was reissued which upset Hughes’ family and relatives. How could Lions management do this?….this sums this organization.

  5. He died of a coronary thrombosis, which is rare for a man so young, which explains why he was allowed to continue playing after an earlier heart attack. He had a hereditary condition, but for some reason it was exceedingly advanced in him. They didn’t have the means to detect and treat it like we have today (angiogram & angioplasty). I have his condition and I survived a coronary thrombrosis last month, but I am 64. If you are a male and getting to middle age or are older, find out your family history re heart attacks and heart disease. It’s very hereditary and it’s something American males should watch out for.

  6. I remember this very well. I was in the 6th grade when that happened. Everyone take care of yourselves. Get your health checkups regularly.

  7. “The Lions retired his #85 as a sign of respect. For some reason it was reissued which upset Hughes’ family and relatives.”

    I guess there is no superstition in the NFL about wearing the number of a player who died during a game.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.