Sunday Is 39th Anniversay Of Only NFL Player's On-Field Death; Player Was Former UTEP Receiver

The big buzz this week has been football brutality, and how something must be done before somebody gets killed.

The irony is the only time an NFL player actually died on the field, nobody touched him.

It happened 39 years ago Sunday. A routine NFC Central showdown turned into the darkest day in NFL history. With just more than a minute left in the game, Detroit wide receiver Chuck Hughes (who played at Texas Western, now UTEP) dropped dead of a heart attack.

The Lions have a bye this week, so there will be no commemoration. Even if Chicago and Detroit played, it's unlikely anyone would want to remember that afternoon. Those who were there will never forget.

"I've never seen anything like it," Bears owner George Halas said.

And he had seen it all. Halas was there when the NFL was formed in 1920. Through thousands of games, tens of thousands of players and millions of plays, Hughes remains the only player to die in front of a paying audience in the NFL.

It's not the kind of thing you celebrate, so in that sense the NFL is fortunate it happened when it did. Imagine if a player ? any player ? died today. It would immediately be Tweeted and replayed around the world.

There was no NFL Ticket or SportsCenter in 1971. The first time most Americans saw the incident was the next night during the halftime highlights on Monday Night Football.

As Howard Cosell did the voiceover, there was a brief glimpse of a player in a blue jersey lying on the turf. A doctor was pounding on his chest.

Hughes was taken away on a stretcher, never to be seen again. Even the film has seemingly vanished into the recesses of history.

You can go to YouTube and find everything from Red Grange in the 1920s to Jack Tatum's paralyzing hit on Darryl Stingley. Hughes' collapse is nowhere to be found.

"Today it would be everywhere," Herman Weaver said.

That kind of scene doesn't fade with time.

"I try to put a smile on my face every day," Weaver said, "because we're not guaranteed tomorrow."

Another irony is that if anyone seemed capable of going forever, it was Hughes. He was an early-day Energizer Bunny, not one of those beer-bellied linemen that used to dot NFL rosters.

"He was just a beanpole," defensive end Larry Hand said. "He could just run all day."

Hughes was a stud in at Texas Western (now UTEP), setting an NCAA record with 17 catches for 349 yards in a game against Arizona State. Philadelphia took Hughes in the fourth round of the 1967 draft, but he caught only six passes in three years.

The Eagles traded him to Detroit in 1970, and he caught eight passes that first season. He hadn't been there long enough to establish a lot of relationships. But what his teammates knew of him, they liked.

"He was always around, patting people on the back and cheering them up," quarterback Greg Landry said at the time.

Hughes complained about chest pains after a preseason game in early September. Cardio tests didn't show any problems, but the scare might have been why Hughes started attending Detroit's chapel services.

Weaver, who has gone on to make a career out of lay preaching, said Hughes made a conversion to Christianity a couple of weeks after his heart scare.

"He'd come to know the Lord," Weaver said.

So Hughes showed up early at Tiger Stadium for chapel that day. The typical attendance was about 20, or less than half the roster. It might have been slightly higher that day since they were facing Dick Butkus.

Read the full AOL Fanhouse article here.

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