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.