Chuck Hughes, Mike Utley and more: The scariest medical moments in Detroit sports history

Detroit Free Press

Monday night, the NFL world stopped when Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed in the first quarter of the game against the Bengals in Cincinnati.

Medical personnel had to use CPR and a defibrillator on the field after Hamlin reportedly suffered cardiac arrest. As he was being worked on, Hamlin’s teammates and opponents watched and were left only to cry, pray and hope for the best.

The game was eventually suspended, a decision spurred by the players, who were still in shock minutes after Hamlin was loaded into an ambulance. Hamlin remains in a Cincinnati hospital in critical condition on Tuesday.

THE SCHEDULE:Bills-Bengals game suspended after Damar Hamlin’s collapse won’t be resumed this week, NFL says

There have been other moments in sports where the fragility of life overtakes an arena full of people, and the Detroit area is very familiar with those instances. A look back at some of those moments:

Chuck Hughes

In the late stages of the division rivalry game against the Chicago Bears on Oct. 24, 1971, the Detroit Lions wide receiver was hustling back to the huddle with about a minute to play and the Lions trying to drive for the go-ahead touchdown. But Hughes, 28, all of a sudden crumbled to the Tiger Stadium turf. All-Pro linebacker Dick Butkus could be seen waving for medical personnel to come help Hughes, who was unresponsive once doctors and trainers reached him. He was rushed off the field on gurney and to Henry Ford Hospital. The next day, an autopsy revealed that a clot developed in one of Hughes’ main arteries.

Mike Utley

In the midst of the Lions’ most successful season in several generations, the home game against the Los Angeles Rams was marred. On Nov. 17, 1991, Utley, the starting right guard in his third NFL season, suffered an injury to his sixth and seventh cervical vertebrae while performing a block. What at first seemed like a harmless play left Utley motionless on the Silverdome floor. As he was carted off the field, Utley raised up one thumb, which later became the team’s rallying cry, “Thumbs up, Mike.” Utley was paralyzed from the chest down, but Utley has worked to regain function of his arms.

Willie Blair

On May 4, 1997, the Tigers were wrapping up a series in Cleveland as Willie Blair faced Julio Franco. The five-time Silver Slugger hit a line drive back through the middle that struck the right-handed Blair on the side of the face. The pitcher went down in a heap but only lost consciousness for a few moments. He was motionless on the field, though, before he was taken away by an ambulance that drove onto the field to get him. Blair suffered a broken jaw but was back on the mound for the Tigers a month later.

Reggie Brown

Dec. 21, 1997, was supposed to be the coronation of Barry Sanders into the 2,000-yard club. And while that did happen in the final regular season against the New York Jets, the Silverdome crowd’s celebration was delayed 17 minutes as Brown laid motionless on the turf. The first-round draft pick out of Texas A&M in 1996 suffered a spinal cord injury while assisting on a tackle and was not breathing when medical personnel reached him. CPR was used before Brown was taken to the hospital for emergency surgery. Though the injury ended his playing career, he made a full recovery.

Chris Pronger

In the prime of his Hall of Fame career, the captain of the St. Louis Blues had a scary moment during a Stanley Cup playoff game at Joe Louis Arena. Pronger, then 23, was struck in the chest with a puck on Mother’s Day 1998, during Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals. He initially went down to a knee, got up and then went down. He laid on the ice, eyes open as trainers from both teams immediately rushed to him. He was strapped to a board and stretchered off the ice as the once-frenzied crowd grew silent. Pronger suffered a cardiac episode due to the shot to the chest, but played in every game the rest of the series.

‘WHITE AS GHOSTS’:Red Wings’ David Perron recalls seeing teammate collapse

Jiri Fischer

The Detroit Red Wings defenseman had a promising career ahead of him at 25 years old. But that all changed in the first period of the game against the Nashville Predators on Nov. 21, 2005, at Joe Louis Arena. Fischer, sitting on the bench, suffered a seizure and then collapsed. Players and coaches immediately signaled for help as Fischer, who had an abnormal EKG in 2002 but passed subsequent tests, did not have a pulse and needed CPR before he was placed on a stretcher and sent to Detroit Receiving Hospital. The game was suspended and Fischer, who suffered another heart episode later that month, would never play again.

Saivion Smith

Earlier this season, Smith got his first NFL start on Oct. 9 at New England. In the first quarter, Smith tried to jam Patriots tight end Hunter Henry, but Smith fell and was left motionless on the field. The 24-year-old defensive back was soon attended to by medical personnel and was paralyzed for some 20 seconds before being carted into an ambulance on the field. It was determined a bulging disc hit Smith’s spine, requiring neck fusion surgery. He plans to be ready for organized team activities next spring.

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