Injuries are a fact of life in the NFL, but the sight of Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsing to the ground Monday night after a first-quarter tackle was chilling.
Hamlin, 24, a Pittsburgh native playing in his second season with the Bills, tackled Cincinnati’s Tee Higgins with 5:58 left in the first quarter of a game between two of the AFC’s best teams, The Buffalo News reported.
Hamlin stood up but immediately collapsed to the turf. He was given CPR on the field by athletic trainers and was taken to a Cincinnati hospital, where he was in critical condition early Tuesday, according to the newspaper.
Sixty-five minutes after Hamlin’s injury, the NFL postponed the game after the head coaches from both teams huddled with game officials, according to ESPN.
The Bills said in a statement early Tuesday that Hamlin had gone into cardiac arrest.
There have been terrifying moments in NFL history when players’ careers ended due to life-threatening injuries. Here are a few notable ones — including the only fatality on a field.
Chuck Hughes, a receiver for the Detroit Lions, is the only player in the NFL’s 102-year history to die on the field. Ironically, it was not due to an injury.
Hughes, 28, entered an Oct. 24, 1971, game against the Chicago Bears and made a 32-yard catch, The Sporting News reported. The Lions were trailing 28-23 with less than two minutes to play but were driving for a potential winning score as Hughes’ first — and last — catch of the season put the ball at the Chicago 37.
Three plays later, a Greg Landry pass intended for Charlie Sanders was incomplete in the end zone, setting up fourth down. Detroit’s players ran back to the huddle — except for Hughes, who was face down on the Tiger Stadium turf near the 15-yard-line.
Initially, several players believed Hughes was faking an injury, a common practice at the time. But then Bears linebacker Dick Butkus began waving wildly toward the sidelines, according to Yahoo Sports.
Hughes had suffered a fatal heart attack. An autopsy determined that Hughes suffered from arteriosclerosis, an abnormal thickening and hardening of the arteries, according to United Press International.
Darryl Stingley was beginning his sixth season as a wide receiver for the New England Patriots when he was blindsided with a crushing hit by Oakland Raiders safety Jack Tatum as he stretched for a pass during a 1978 preseason game at the Oakland Coliseum.
A pass intended for Stingley on Aug. 12, 1978, fell incomplete. That is when Tatum slammed into the Patriots receiver with his helmet, The New York Times reported. The hit left Stingley as a quadriplegic after two vertebrae in his neck were broken and his spinal cord was severely damaged, according to the newspaper.
In his autobiography, “They Call Me Assassin,” Tatum wrote, “I like to believe that my best hits border on felonious assault.”
There was no penalty called on Tatum after the play.
“I have relived that moment over and over again,” Stingley said in a 1988 interview with The Associated Press. “I was 26 years old at the time and I remember thinking, ‘What’s going to happen to me? If I live, what am I going to be like?’ And then there were all those whys, whys, whys?
“It was only after I stopped asking why, that I was able to regroup and go on with my life.”
Although Stingley was paralyzed from the neck down, intensive therapy helped him regain limited use of his hands and arms and enabled him to operate an electric wheelchair, the Times reported.
Stingley and Tatum never met after the injury, according to the newspaper.
“He has not contacted me, not even a mystery postcard,” Stingley said in 1983, according to the Times. “The bottom line is that I feel sorry for him. He’s a man that can’t bend to really be a man. Sitting in my wheelchair, I’m taller than he is.”
Stingley died on April 5, 2007, when he was found unresponsive in his Chicago home, according to the AP. He was 55.
“I am deeply saddened by the death of Darryl Stingley,” Tatum said in a statement released by the Raiders. “Darryl will be forever remembered for his strength and courage. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family.”
On Dec. 21, 1997, Detroit linebacker Reggie Brown suffered a serious spinal cord injury during the Lions’ regular-season finale against the New York Jets.
The 23-year-old was left paralyzed, unconscious and near death, The Detroit News reported.
Brown, a second-year player out of Texas A&M, went to tackle Jets running back Adrian Murrell. Replays would show Brown making the tackle while the crown of his helmet crashed into the back of Jets lineman Lamont Burns, who was falling during the play, according to the newspaper.
“It was very routine,” Brown told the News in a 2017 interview. “I just saw the running back getting the ball and I came out of my break running full speed to make the tackle like I’ve done thousands of times. And then I just felt a pressure at the top of my head, which I never saw coming. I remember falling back on my back.”
Brown said he recalled teammate Antonio London urging him to get up after the play.
“I’m trying to gasp for air at that point. I tell Antonio I can’t breathe. I can’t move,” Brown told the newspaper. “I remember his reaction to me and him telling people to come out toward me to help me. A few seconds later everything goes black.”
Wide receiver Herman Moore said that Brown “turned blue” and that trainers performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation until an ambulance arrived, The Washington Post reported.
The next day, Brown had surgery to fuse two vertebrae in his neck, according to the AP.
During an interview with “Dateline NBC” in January 1998, Brown said he was “fortunate.”
“I would say I’m unfortunate about my career, but I’m very fortunate. I would rather have my life,” Brown said. “I would rather be a better ... father, a better son, than be a better football player.”
Dennis Byrd was a defensive lineman for the New York Jets. On Nov. 29, 1992, Byrd collided with teammate Scott Mersereau as they tried to tackle Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Dave Krieg, according to Sports Illustrated.
As both linemen converged on Krieg, the quarterback stepped up in the pocket. Byrd slammed into Mersereau headfirst, according to the magazine.
Teammate Kyle Clifton urged Byrd to get up, but he was unable to move.
“I don’t think I can (get up), Kyle,” Byrd told Clifton. “I think I’m paralyzed.”
Byrd had shattered the fifth cervical vertebra in his neck, preventing him from moving any body part below his next except for his right biceps, Sports Illustrated reported.
When his teammates visited him at a New York hospital, Byrd told them, “If it had to happen to one of us, I’m glad it was me.”
Byrd was able to walk again several months later after rehabilitation, ESPN reported. He never fully recovered, but in 1993 wrote a book, “Rise and Walk: The Trial and Triumph of Dennis Byrd.”
Byrd died on Oct. 6, 2016, in Claremore, Oklahoma, when he was involved in a head-on vehicle collision near his home, according to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. He was 50.
Byrd was driving a 2004 Hummer H2 when he was struck by a 2000 Ford Explorer driven by a 17-year-old that veered into his lane, ESPN reported.
Mike Utley was an offensive lineman for the Detroit Lions when he was injured on Nov. 17, 1991.
Utley, 25 at the time, was blocking against the Los Angeles Rams at the Pontiac Silverdome when a defensive player landed on top of him, driving his chin into the turf, WDIV-TV reported.
“This time I lost strength,” Utley told the television station during a November 2021 interview. “I never lost strength before, and when I was able to get on my back it was bad, and I knew it.
But as he was being wheeled off the field, Utley made a gesture that brought a roar from the Silverdome crowd. He managed to give a thumbs-up signal with his right hand, according to the website.
Utley broke his fifth, sixth and seventh cervical vertebrae, according to Bleacher Report. He was paralyzed from the chest down.
Despite the abrupt end to his career, Utley has never been bitter.
“Are you asking when I do dream do I think about me being in a wheelchair? Never have,” Utley told WDIV. “There are days that I forget I’m even in a wheelchair. I’m the same guy I was on Nov. 17 when I stepped on the field, and by God, I’m the same guy who was wheeled off, just not the same athlete.”
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