DETROIT, Mich. — What can you say about a 28-year-old football player who died?
That he worked hard to play because he was not very big nor very fast in a sport obsessed with size and speed. And was fun to be around.
I don’t know how Erich Segal, from whom I’ve just plagiarized, would write this memorial to Chuck Hughes, a friend who died with his football uniform on. I believe those who were closest to him said it best — his family and his team.
The Lions had scheduled a team spirit party the night after they played the Bears, the night after Chuck died. They felt it would be a fine night for the 40 players to get together for an evening of camaraderie and fun.
Instead, the Lions attended a private rosary.
“Chuck was looking forward to the party,” said Mike Lucci, the Lions’ spirit leader. “He mentioned Sunday morning before the game that we needed to get a little closer.
“The team’s future. I don’t know. When I was driving downtown, I was thinking to myself … I’d love to win something … maybe a championship ring to give his wife, his son.
“It can’t bring him back, but … you see people die every day … but you don’t expect it that close. He was the kind of guy you wanted to be around.”
The Lions, as a bereaving team, flew together to San Antonio for Chuck’s final rites.
“We feel we’re not his immediate family,” said Lucci, “but we’re family in a sense. I’m glad we’re taking time off so we can go down there.”
Chuck Hughes was a cameo player with the Lions. In his five-year pro career, he caught only 15 passes. The 15th was caught three plays before Chuck died of a heart attack on the field at Tiger Stadium. At the end of a pass route. Although he was not the receiver, Chuck ran his pattern with precision — and then he collapsed.
Lions Can Take Heart
Joe Hughes, one of Chuck’s seven brothers, felt it would mean something to Chuck to die in such a manner.
“I’m glad it happened on the football field rather than with him jumping up and down on the bench,” Joe Hughes told me on the way to San Antonio.
“I think we’re in a stronger frame of mind because of Sharon,” said Greg Landry of Chuck’s widow. “She was so strong.
“She said to us, ‘Don’t let Chuck’s death wreck the season.’ After looking at her and his brother Tom and seeing their strength, we’ve got to be as strong as Chuck’s family.”