Only One NFL Player Has Died on the Field, and He Played For Detroit
As thoughts and prayers continue for Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin who collapsed on the field during Monday night's game, many long-time Detroit Lions fans are flashing back to the loss of one of their own.
Thankfully, only one NFL football player has ever died on the field during the game. His name was Chuck Hughes and he was a wide receiver who started his career with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1967 and then being transferred to the Detroit Lions in 1970.
On October 24, 1971, the Detroit Lions were hosting the Chicago Bears at Tiger Stadium which was home to the Lions from 1938 to 1974. It was the fourth quarter when Hughes entered the game as a substitute for injured starter Larry Walton. Hughes would go on to catch a 32-yard pass, his first catch of the season, and then be tackled.
What started out as a dream game for the second-string wide receiver tragically changed just a few plays later when Hughes collapsed on the field face down. The 28-year-old player had suffered a fatal heart attack. Although team doctors and trainers from both sides of the field tried to save him, they were unsuccessful.
“I knew something horrible had happened, because when they were rolling Chuck off the field, one of his arms fell down and his hand was flopping around back and forth, and I thought to myself, ‘Holy Christ, I think he’s dead,’” Chicago Bears defensive end Ed O’Bradovich told the Detroit Free Press in an interview back in 2021.
It was determined that he died of a dislodged blood clot after he was tackled.
Unlike Monday night's game between the Bills and the Bengals, that 1971 game between the Lions and Bears continued on after Hughes was taken from the field by ambulance. The final score was Bears 28-Lions 23.
After the game ended, the team, fans, and the world would be told what they already knew. Chuck Hughes was gone.