Football Thursday: Legacy of Chuck Hughes goes deeper than being only NFL player to die on field during a game
He is forever frozen in the picture now, this man with blue eyes gazing into a future that would never be his. Chuck Hughes will remain 28 years old and in the middle of a professional football career nobody could have predicted back home in Abilene, Texas. He will never get old. He will never wear down. He will never lose his sturdy chin or his slightly bent nose or his crooked half smile. He will always be young.
Sharon Hughes loved her husband's smile. It had such assuredness. Sometimes she will say, "He was confident, that boy," because that's how he seems to her, trapped for eternity in a hopeful gaze during the last year of his life. She is 68, a librarian and bus driver in a tiny school district in southern Texas. And the 42 years she has lived since he became the only player to die on the field in an NFL game are far longer than the eight they were together. She tries to imagine what he would look like today, at 70, wondering if he would still be handsome. But she can't. So she stares at the picture of the man eternally youthful and figures that's how she will always know the love of her life.
"He was gorgeous to me," she says.
Football Thursday: Big Irv's legend ironclad 10 years later as Brett Favre reflects on magical game after his father's death
FENTON, Miss. – Down by the Beneshewa Bayou, past the iron gate and the Spanish moss, there runs a winding road named for a man who loved his children so much he could never say the words. They called him "Big Irv," ironic because Irv Favre wasn't tall, but he had those wide, stocky shoulders, buzz cut and a bark that made everybody jump.
Big Irv was tough. Once he fell off the roof and split open his head. He refused to go to the hospital even as blood spilled from the wound. "Put some ice on it," he said. Big Irv was demanding. When storms blew through, he had his four kids out cleaning up debris before the wind and rain had stopped. For 24 years Irv coached football at Hancock North Central, naming his three sons – Scott, Brett and Jeff – quarterback but rarely letting them throw the ball even as his middle son showed a remarkable ability to pass.
And when he died of a heart attack while driving his truck on that December day 10 years ago, the country watched in awe the next night as his heartbroken boy Brett played one of the greatest games of his life, throwing four touchdown passes as the Green Bay Packers beat the Oakland Raiders 41-7.
NEW ORLEANS – He is Drew Brees, and with that name comes a measure of entitlement. Primarily that entitlement is protection from the men who police the NFL. They ensure he will not be subjected to the most eager, overzealous and violent of hits. When you are one of six quarterbacks in league history to throw for 49,000 yards, a flying tackle from a 259-pound man aimed high at your body is going to draw a penalty.
And that is the reality San Francisco 49er linebacker Ahmad Brooks absorbed as he stood before his locker on Sunday night, his 15-yard roughing the passer penalty likely being the difference between a Niners win and a 23-20 loss to the Saints.
[Photo gallery: Celebs at Week 11 games]
NEW YORK – The photograph is static; a moment new to history but already distant in time. Splashed across the wall, deep down a corridor inside the NFL's offices, David Tyree is trapped in jumbo color, with Rodney Harrison forever on his shoulder, a football on his helmet held there with his gloved hand and a determination to never let it go.
The man on the wall stands before himself in real life. It's been five years now and there are probably ways Tyree would rather walk to his work cubicle than past an 8-foot picture of the instant he became famous. He never thought his life was about this thing everyone calls "The Greatest Catch in Super Bowl History." He didn't even know he had pinned the ball to his head until he was asked in the postgame media conference.
The other day, as he stood before his 4-foot-wide mahogany-colored stall in a country club-like locker room of the Carolina Panthers, tackle Jordan Gross was asked about the dirty world of lineman hazing. Surely now that the door has been opened on the world of Richie Incognito and profane texts and the free use of the worst racial slurs, Gross could offer context to a story that was shocking the nation.
Gross stared, confused, at the question.
"Honestly, since I've gotten in the league it's gotten a lot cleaner," he finally said.
The rest of the NFL does not resemble the Miami Dolphins locker room. A barbaric game on the field is often more corporate away from it. Many teams practice in gleaming new buildings with glass atriums and weight rooms that are nicer than $150-a-month gymnasiums. They meet in classrooms and pad respectfully down carpeted hallways. Practices are regimented. The bravado and trash talking you see on Sundays rarely arises on fields where horns constantly blare signaling the next segment of instruction.
CHICAGO – If ever again this city should doubt the resolve of its quarterback, challenging Jay Cutler's desire to handle pain, let Sunday be the exhibit that puts those questions to rest. For in the face of the NFL's most vicious, defensive line he hobbled around Soldier Field with a partially torn groin and a twisted ankle and he still almost took the Bears to a victory over the Detroit Lions.
Forget Chicago lost to the Lions 21-19 or that it failed to seize first place in the NFC North, Sunday should stand as the signature game of Cutler's career: a symbol of the day when no one here will wonder about his toughness again.
Football Thursday: Panthers' success hinges on Cam Newton's calm and Ron Rivera's newfound aggression
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The quarterback had to learn to forget about losing and this was the hardest thing to do. Cam Newton might have been the first pick of the 2011 NFL draft, the man who was going to redefine what playing quarterback was all about, but he had hardly been a starting quarterback for much of his adult life before he was handed the Carolina Panthers.
There was the year he won the junior college championship at Blinn College in Brenham, Texas, and the season he played at Auburn, where he won the national title and the Heisman Trophy. But what did that teach Newton about the NFL, where not every game ends in joy?
"Don't forget this feeling, know how it feels," Panthers offensive coordinator Mike Shula used to tell Newton those dark afternoons of the quarterback's first two NFL seasons.
But also learn to forget.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – And so again the most improbable team with the most improbable record made the perfect plays at the perfect time. And so again the most improbable team with the most improbable record ran victorious off an NFL field. And so again the most improbable team with the most improbable record whooped and clapped in a locker room filled with joy.
Then the Kansas City Chiefs, with a 9-0 record that makes no sense to anyone but themselves, pointed to the round man in the red jacket with the bushy moustache and the wire glasses, and they said that Andy Reid had saved them.
"It's hard not to play for him, he keeps it 100 percent real," Chiefs safety Eric Berry said after Kansas City beat Buffalo 23-13 despite being outgained 470 yards to 210 .
[Photos: Best of NFL Week 9]
OWINGS MILLS, Md. – The spot on the machine's screen had a name: "Spinal contusion."
The doctors repeated it in somber tones every time they pulled Baltimore Ravens linebacker Jameel McClain from an MRI machine after that tackle last Dec. 9. Then they followed their diagnosis with vague predictions of misfortune to come.
They said the spot would never go away. They explained that it rested on the aqueduct through which flowed almost every command his brain gave to his body. They said things like "nerve damage" and "partial paralysis." And they said he might have trouble walking or breathing or picking things up.
Finally one of them, a doctor in Dallas, blurted, "I hope you saved your money because you have played your last game."
The best reason the Washington Redskins can still win the NFC East was sprawled on the field in Denver on Sunday afternoon holding his knee.
By Monday it was clear that Robert Griffin III should be able to play this weekend which is a good thing for the Redskins. Because as long as he is on the field, Washington still has an excellent chance to win a division that nobody wants.
[Photos: Best NFL action from Week 8]
In an ordinary year, the thought of Eli Manning telling reporters on Sunday that his 2-6 New York Giants "still believe" would be absurd.
In an ordinary year, the Redskins' season would be all but done at 2-5.
In an ordinary year, the 35 points by which the Philadelphia Eagles have been outscored overall would have banished them to the bottom of the NFC East. Instead they are but a game out of first place and very much alive for the postseason despite having scored just 10 points in two weeks.