Jan. 3—The only NFL player to die on the field wore a cowboy hat when he wasn't wearing a helmet, was fond of singing country songs — Waylon Jennings', in particular — and caught six passes in his three years with the Eagles.

On Oct. 24, 1971, Chuck Hughes was 28 years old, playing wide receiver for the Detroit Lions in a game against the Chicago Bears at Tiger Stadium. The Eagles had traded him to the Lions in the summer of 1970, less than a year-and-a-half before. There were 62 seconds left in the game. The Lions trailed, 28-23. And Hughes, as he headed back to the huddle, collapsed. A blood clot had formed in one of his arteries. He was pronounced dead later that day.

That scene, 51 years ago, wasn't so different from the horrifying one that played out Monday night in Cincinnati, when Buffalo Bills defensive back Damar Hamlin, who remains in critical condition at an area hospital, went into cardiac arrest midway through the first quarter of a game against the Bengals.

"I was thinking about it all night," said Ray Didinger, who began covering the Eagles for the Philadelphia Bulletin in 1970, getting to know Hughes a little before the trade. "He was just a super-nice guy, always had a smile on his face. He had a wonderful spirit. Most of the guys weren't that friendly. He was."

Although newspaper stories about him said that he was born in Philadelphia in 1943, Hughes grew up in Abilene, Texas. As a junior in 1965 at Texas Western, now known as the University of Texas-El Paso, he caught 86 passes for 1,634 yards and 13 touchdowns, and the Eagles selected him in the fourth round of the 1967 NFL draft. But because the team already had two excellent starting wide receivers in Ben Hawkins and Harold Jackson, Hughes didn't see much playing time.

He was a bit more productive for the Lions in 1970, catching eight passes for 162 yards. He had just one reception through Detroit's first three games in '71 but was on the field for the closing moments against the Bears, as the Lions ran a two-minute drill in an attempt to pull off a come-from-behind victory.

Hughes' widow, Sharon, revealed in a 1991 interview with Detroit Free Press columnist Charlie Vincent that the couple had had an argument at a party the night before Hughes' death. The argument was over whether they should allow their son Shane, who was nearly 2 at the time, to chew gum, and it escalated to the point that the two of them left the party. Sharon went home. Chuck went to the team hotel.

They never spoke again.


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