NFL fans around the country went from buzzing with anticipation for arguably the best game of the regular season, to sitting in horrifying silence after one of the scariest incidents in league history.
Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin at this moment is in critical condition at a hospital in Cincinnati after suffering cardiac arrest during Monday night’s game against the Bengals.
Hamlin collapsed after making a tackle, had to be administered CPR on the field and was transported from the field in an ambulance as tearful players from both teams knelt in prayer.
The incident also brought into light the only time an NFL player has died on the field, which came in 1971.
During a game against the Chicago Bears at Tiger Stadium on Oct. 24, 1971, Detroit Lions wide receiver Chuck Hughes was heading back to his team’s huddle after a play with 1:02 remaining in the game and the Lions trailing 28-23.
As he was running to the huddle, Hughes collapsed near Chicago’s 20-year line while clutching his chest.
Bears’ Hall of Fame linebacker Dick Butkus was right where Hughes was and frantically motioned for medical personnel to come onto the field from the sideline, according to the Sporting News.
Hughes was taken off of the field in an ambulance, but was later that day pronounced dead at Henry Ford Hospital at the age of 28, according to the New York Post.
Unlike Monday’s Buffalo-Cincinnati game when the game was suspended and ultimately postponed, the Chicago-Detroit game was played to its conclusion.
Following his death, it was discovered that Hughes had a family history of heart problems and that one of his arteries was 75% clogged.
A blood clot had broken loose and became trapped in the artery, which prevented the heart muscle from receiving blood.
It might have been a result of a hit taken three plays earlier on what turned out to be the last reception of his life.
Hughes’ wife Sharon, who was in the ambulance as her husband was taken to the hospital, filed a $21.5 million lawsuit in 1972 against physicians at Henry Ford Hospital for not properly diagnosing his heart condition during an examination in May of 1971, roughly five months before his death.
The suit was eventually settled for an undisclosed amount of money.
On his Twitter page following Hamlin’s situation, former Detroit Red Wings trainer and medical expert John Wharton said that “if the human heart suffers direct blow trauma during a certain point in the cardiac cycle, it can stop.”
Wharton then cited an example in 1998 during an NHL playoff game, when former St. Louis defenseman Chris Pronger took a puck to the chest and then slowly collapsed to the ice after getting on his feet.
Wharton didn’t claim that Hamlin’s injury was exactly like Pronger’s, just that it “looked eerily similar.”
As the NFL community and fans around the world wait for more word on Hamlin’s status, it was a chilling reminder that it isn’t the only time a sudden heart problem has plagued a player during a game.