TSN Archives: Death Visits Gridiron — ‘The Winning Is Spoiled’
DETROIT, Mich. — The Chicago Bears beat the Detroit Lions, 28-23. But nobody cared.
The stunning collapse of Chuck Hughes with 62 seconds to play October 24 and the death less than an hour later of the Lions’ wiry spare wide receiver shocked a crowd of 54,418, plus a regional television audience.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” venerable George Halas, owner of the Bears, said in disbelief, even before learning of the death of the 28-year-old Hughes.
Hughes was trotting routinely back to the huddle — the player after catching a 32-yard pass which gave Detroit a first down on Chicago’s 36-yard line with 98 seconds to play — when he plunged to the turf in mid-stride, a victim of coronary thrombosis.
“I thought he was faking at first,” Dr. Richard Thompson, one of the Lions’ two team physicians, said of his initial reaction.
Doctors and trainers from both clubs rushed out to attempt to revive Hughes, but their cardiac massage and resuscitation attempts were futile. Fifty minutes after the game ended, he was pronounced dead.
“He seemed all right,” said defensive back Bobo Jeter of the Bears. Jeter, along with safety Garry Layle, had caught Hughes in a hard “pinch” tackle on his 32-yard reception.
“He turned around and started for the huddle, then he just fell down,” Jeter said. “It seemed so terribly long for anyone to get to him.”
“I knew him,” assistant coach Jim Ringo said. “We were together in Philadelphia. He was a real nice guy.”
“The winning is spoiled,” middle linebacker Dick Butkus of Chicago said. “I’m not as happy as I’d like to be.”
The Bears and Lions now both have 4-2 records in the Central Division of the National Football Conference.
Detroit quarterback Greg Landry fired three incomplete passes after connecting with Hughes with 98 seconds to play. His final pass of the game also fell without being caught and Chicago ran out the clock as the siren screamed on the ambulance which was coming to take Hughes to the hospital.
“It made you realize just how unimportant a silly football game is,” said Roy (Friday) Macklem, who is the veteran Lions’ equipment manager.
Hughes, who was drafted fourth by Philadelphia in 1967, was married and had a 23-month-old son. He had 12 brothers and sisters.
One of the men who knew Chuck Hughes best, when the late Detroit Lions wide receiver was a 15-pound high school younger, described him as “the Utopia of desire.”
The 28-year-old Hughes played his prep football at Abilene (Tex.) High School and in college at the University of Texas-El Paso, then known as Texas Western College.
“He was one of the smallest varsity kids we’ve ever had … I don’t believe he weighed over 150 pounds,” said Chuck Moser, athletic director of the Abilene school. “But he was the Utopia of desire.”
“Chuck was ineligible to play his senior year in high school because he was over-age. But he didn’t miss a single day of practice that season.
Bobby Dobbs, the coach at Texas El Paso, said Hughes “earned his scholarship because he was a great competitor.”
Dobbs took over at UTEP in Hughes’ senior season.
“He was just the type for my style of football,” Dobbs said. “He was part of the trio that helped us gain fame as the ‘Flying Miners’ — along with receiver Bob Wallas and quarterback Billy Stevens.
“I’ll never forget the first game Chuck played for me. He caught more than 300 yards in passes that day.”
Hughes that season went on to snag 8- passes for 1,519 yards and 12 touchdowns. In his three varsity years, he caught 162 passes for 2,882 yards and 19 touchdowns.
“He did it all on sheer dedication … just one super guy,” Dobbs said.