DETROIT, Michigan – What can you say about a 28-year-old football player who died?
That he was working hard to play because he was not very tall nor very fast in a sport obsessed with size and speed. And it was fun to be around.
I don’t know how Erich Segal, whom I just plagiarized, would write this memorial to Chuck Hughes, a deceased friend in his football uniform. I believe those closest to him said it best – his family and his team.
The Lions had planned a team building night the night after playing against the Bears, the night after Chuck died. They thought it would be a great night for the 40 players to come 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 spiritual leader. “He mentioned on Sunday morning before the game that we needed to get a bit closer.
“The future of the team. I don’t know. When I was driving downtown I thought to myself… I would love to win something… maybe a championship ring to give to his wife, his son.
“It can’t bring him back, but… you see people dying every day… but you don’t expect it to be that close. He was the kind of guy you wanted to be with.”
The Lions, as a grieving team, flew to San Antonio together for Chuck’s final rites.
“We think we’re not her immediate family,” Lucie said, “but we’re family in a way. I’m glad we’re taking the time to be able to go.”
Chuck Hughes was a cameo with the Lions. During his five-year professional career, he only caught 15 assists. The 15th was taken three times before Chuck died of a heart attack on the pitch at Tiger Stadium. At the end of a pass route. Although not the receiver, Chuck executed his diagram with precision – then he collapsed.
Lions can take heart
Joe Hughe, one of Chuck’s seven brothers, felt it would mean something for Chuck to die this way.
“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, ‘Don’t let Chuck’s death ruin the season.’ After watching her and her brother Tom and seeing their strength, we have to be as strong as Chuck’s family. “