The National Football League is a fan favorite in many respects but also a very violent game.
Recently much of the attention from the NFL Player's Association and league management has focused on concussions and how they can affect a player post-career.
Many players feel that nothing can harm them and that they are indestructible. Many live life to the fullest, pushing it to the edge. Some are simply the victims of unpredictable misfortune.
The sad truth is that 64 NFL players had their lives cut short while they were still active on a team's roster. All were in the prime of life; 52 of the 64 were 28 years old or younger.
Something that may surprise you is that just six of the players died as a result in-game activity but only one player died while participating in a game.
Chuck Hughes was a 28-year old wide receiver for the Detroit Lions from 1967-71. He still holds the Texas Western (now UTEP) record for all-purpose yards for a single game with 401 yards against North Texas State in 1965. Hughes also recorded the most receptions for the Miners (17) in one game against Arizona State.
Hughes was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 4th round of the 1967 NFL draft. After there seasons in Philly, he was dealt to Detroit prior to the 1970 campaign.
On October 24, 1971, Hughes suffered a fatal heart attack late in the 4th quarter in a game against the Chicago Bears. He had just run a pass route; the throw went to another receiver.
At first, some thought that he had faked an injury to stop the clock, but Bears Hall of Famer linebacker Dick Butkus recognized that Hughes was unresponsive and frantically attempted to call for help to come onto the field.
Unable to be revived, Hughes was declared dead at the hospital a short time later. The Lions retired his jersey #85 and recognize him with an annual award to the team's most improved player.
Here are the five others who passed away due to game-related issues (four after playing in a league game on the same day):
- Three-year veteran Dave Sparks, a defensive tackle with the Washington Redskins, died in December 1954 at age 26 following a heart attack three hours after a game.
- Stan Mauldin, an 27-year old offensive tackle, suffered a heart attack in the locker-room on October 4, 1948 following a Chicago Cardinals game.
- Thomas Herrion, a 23-year old offensive guard with the San Francisco 49ers, collapsed and died following an exhibition game on August 20, 2005.
- Howard Glenn, an offensive guard with the New York Titans, was 26 years old when he suffered a broken neck against the Houston Oilers on October 9, 1960 and died later that day.
- Stone Johnson was a 23-year old rookie running back with the Kansas City Chiefs when he also suffered a neck injury in a season game in 1963 and died shortly afterward. An Olympic sprinter in 1960, Johnson was also a KR as a rookie in '63. The former Grambling State star suffered a fractured vertebra in a preseason game against the Oakland Raiders in Wichita, Kansas and died 19 days later. His jersey #33 was retired by the Chiefs.
The Kansas City Chiefs have suffered the most deaths with active players than any other NFL franchise.
Mack Lee Hill was a 25-year old fullback who died from a pulmonary embolism. A free agent out of Southern University in Baton Rouge, Hill was the Chiefs' leading rusher (567 yards) as a rookie in 1964. He was extremely well respected by his teammates and opponents alike as evidenced by his nickname "The Truck." He suffered a knee injury against the Buffalo Bills on December 14, 1965 and died while undergoing knee surgery two days after the injury. His jersey #36 was retired by the Chiefs who recognize him each year with an award in his name going to the most outstanding rookie .
Joe Delaney, an electrifying RB with the KC Chiefs played only 23 NFL games, scoring 11 touchdowns. He was the team's 2nd round draft choice in 1981 out of Northwestern State University. On June 29, 1983 while attempting to save three youngsters who were struggling in a waterhole, 24-year old Delaney drowned.
Former University of Alabama All-American Derrick Thomas, a 9-time Pro Bowler, died from a spinal cord injury suffered in an auto accident. He was a fearsome pass rusher at outside linebacker who had a league-record seven sacks in one game against Seattle in 1990. Thomas had 126.5 career sacks and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Bruce McLenna, who played for the Chiefs and Saints, was only 26 years old when he died in 1968 while riding in a vehicle during the offseason as a member of the Missouri National Guard.
Speaking of the Saints, Dave Waymer, then a member of the Los Angeles Raiders, died from a cocaine-induced heart attack on April 30, 1993 at age 34. He spent 10 seasons (1980-89) with New Orleans recording 48 career interceptions and was voted to the Saints Hall of Fame.
Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Korey Stringer died at practice during the preseason in 2001. He was 27-year old.
Nine of the players that died during their NFL careers had ties to Louisiana besides Joe Delaney, Stone Johnson, Mack Lee Hill and Dave Waymer:
- Former Tulane linebacker Rusty Chambers, a Loranger, La. native, played briefly with the Saints before joining the Miami Dolphins from 1976-80. He was killed in an auto accident near Hammond, La. on July 1, 1981.
- Chris Henry, the former Belle Chasse High School and West Virginia University star, died on December 17, 2009 after the former Cincinnati Bengals 3rd round draft pick in 2005 fell out of the back of a moving pick up truck.
- Eric Andolsek was a former LSU great offensive lineman and 5th round draft pick of the Detroit Lions in 1988. He was working in his yard in Thibodaux, La. when a semi-trailer ran off the highway in front of his house and struck him dead at the age of 26. Andolsek played four seasons in Detroit, starting 61 games as a key member of the offensive line that blocked for Hall of Famer Barry Sanders.
- The Lions lost another player in 1994 when another ex-LSU standout, linebacker Toby Caston, was killed in an automobile accident at age 29. The Monroe, La. product played five seasons with Detroit and two before that with the Houston Oilers, who selected Caston in the 6th round of the 1987 NFL draft.
- Ralph Norwood, a former standout at O.P. Walker High (New Orleans) and LSU, was involved in an auto accident that took his life on November 24, 1989, following Thanksgiving dinner. Norwood was the Atlanta Falcons 2nd round draft choice in the 1989 draft. Norwood and Andolsek were linemates while at LSU.
- Marquise Hill drowned on May 28, 2007 in Lake Pontchartrain while trying to rescue his girlfriend in rough waters. He was the New England 2nd round pick in 2004. A member of the Patriots XXXIX Super Bowl Championship squad, Hill also shined for the 2003 LSU BCS National Champions in 2003. He prepped at De La Salle High School in New Orleans.
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