Widow of Only NFL Player to Die on Field Watched Damar Hamlin Collapse

  • Chuck Hughes is the only NFL player to die on the field after he suffered a fatal heart attack in 1971.
  • His widow, Sharon Hughes, told NBC News that she knows how Damar Hamlin’s family is feeling.
  • Hamlin remains in critical condition after he went into cardiac arrest during the Monday game. 

The widow of the only NFL player to ever die on the field knows exactly how Damar Hamlin’s family must have felt when the Buffalo Bills safety collapsed during Monday night’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

“I was very emotional,” Sharon Hughes, 77,  told NBC News this week.

Hamlin, 24, remains in critical condition after he went into cardiac arrest mid-game following a hit he took that brought him to the ground. Crowd members in the stadium and viewers at home watched in horror as Hamlin briefly stood up and then fell on his back. 

Paramedics frantically performed CPR on the field before Hamlin was taken away in an ambulance. Players on both teams looked on in disbelief. The league eventually canceled the game.

Hughes, whose late husband Chuck Hughes, had a fatal heart attack during an NFL game more than 50 years ago, said she stayed up late on Monday night, willing Hamlin to survive.

She told NBC that she felt an immediate kinship with Hamlin’s family. The young player’s mother reportedly rode with him to the hospital, just as Hughes did with her late husband in 1971. 

“Can you imagine how his mother felt?” Hughes told the outlet. “It’s a horrifying feeling, and, well, I just felt so sorry for the whole family last night.”

Chuck Hughes, 28, was a wide receiver for the Detroit Lions on October 24, 1971, when he entered the fourth quarter of a game against the Chicago Bears. With only 62 seconds left in the game, he fell to the ground clutching his chest.

Chuck hughes lies on the field face down as two referees watch in a black in white picture.

Chuck Hughes lies on the field at Tiger Stadium, October 24, 1971.

Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

Efforts to revive the fallen player fell short; Hughes had died of a fatal heart attack on the field. In this instance, though, the game resumed, NBC reported.

An autopsy later revealed that Hughes had an undiagnosed heart disease. A hit he sustained during the game may have dislodged a blood clot in a clogged artery, bringing on the heart attack, according to the outlet.

Chuck and Sharon Hughes had a son, Brandon Shane Hughes, who was not even two years old at the time of his father’s death. 

Brandon Hughes, now 53, told NBC on Tuesday that Hamlin’s family has a “support system” in him and his mother should they need it. 

“I would be more than happy to speak with them,” he told the outlet. “We certainly understand what they’re going through.”

Sharon Hughes declined to speak with Insider.