LUBBOCK, Texas – Monday night’s collapse of Buffalo Bills’ safety Damar Hamlin was a true shock for sports fans worldwide. For some, like Lubbock’s Ed Mooney, it brought back a painful memory of the death of Detroit Lions’ Chuck Hughes, who also collapsed during a game 52 years ago.
“I went to Texas Tech University (TTU) and he was at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), so right away, we had a connection,” Mooney said.
Mooney was a star linebacker for TTU during the 1966-1967 seasons. His time at the Double T would earn him a fourth-round selection in 1968 to the Detroit Lions. There, he became fast friends with a man named Chuck Hughes.
“The interesting connection is his wife also is named Sharon as mine is, and we lived in the same apartment complex out in the suburbs of Detroit,” Mooney said. “I got to know Chuck pretty well.”
Hughes went to Abilene High School, and his impressive college stats at UTEP (formerly Texas Western) from 1964-1966 would earn him a spot in the UTEP Athletics Hall of Fame in 2006. He solidified a roster spot with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1967 where he spent three seasons before being traded to the lions in 1970.
On Oct. 24, 1971, the Lions played host to the Chicago Bears. The Bears took a late 28-23 lead. With under two minutes to play, Hughes’ name was called to go in for injured starting wide receiver Larry Walton. The 28-year-old made a 32-yard reception for a much-needed first down. That would be his first catch of the season.
The next moments would silence a crowd of 54,418 at Tiger Stadium.
“I’m on the sideline, I played defense, Chuck was an offensive player,” Mooney said. “He runs down the field on a deep pattern, he runs all the way down right by us, probably all the way to the 10-yard line. The ball landed someplace else, Chuck turned around, and if I remember it, he was jogging back right in front of us to the huddle, and on the way, all of a sudden, and everybody saw it, Chuck collapsed, face down, didn’t move.”
More than five decades later, Mooney remembers the tragedy like it was yesterday.
“Something was seriously wrong, and I remember Dick Butkus looking over at our sideline and waving to the medical people to get out here, and there was only two or three at that time,” Mooney said. “They determined there was a serious problem, and it didn’t take long before they loaded Chuck up, and immediately put him in an ambulance and took him to the hospital.”
Hughes had a heart attack and was pronounced dead about an hour later. An autopsy revealed that he had a massive stoppage of his left coronary artery.
“It was very uncommon,” Mooney said. “In my seven years playing, I never saw anything like it.”
There were 62 seconds remaining in the game. The Bears ran out the clock and got the 28-23 win over the Lions.
In 102 years of the NFL, Hughes is the only known player who has died after collapsing on the football field.
Mooney said all 49 members of the 1971 Lions team attended the funeral at Sunset Memorial Park in San Antonio just four days later.
“He was just a heck of a nice guy, and a great wide receiver,” Mooney said. “Him not continuing that season affected us a bunch. People were saying, ‘we really miss Chuck,’ and we did. The records showed it.”