An Arena Football League lineman died yesterday after suffering an apparent spinal cord injury in a game against the Dragons in Los Angeles.
Al Lucas, 26, of the Los Angeles Avengers, was carried from the Staples Center field on a stretcher and taken to California Hospital Medical Center, where attempts to revive him were unsuccessful, said Avengers team physician Dr. Luga Podesta.
“Lucas suffered a presumed spinal cord injury,” Podesta said.
Lucas, a 6-1, 300-pound lineman who played for the NFL’s Carolina Panthers in 2000-01, was pronounced dead at 4:28 p.m. EST. Coaches and players did not learn of Lucas’ death until after the game.
“It is with great sadness that we confirm the passing of Al Lucas. At this time, the thoughts and prayers of the entire Avenger organization are with his wife and family,” team owner and chief executive officer Casey Wasserman said in a statement.
“This really puts things in perspective,” said Dragons quarterback Aaron Garcia. “We are extremely saddened by this unthinkable tragedy and we’re thinking only about his family. He was a guy we all knew and all respected.”
With the Avengers leading 6-0, Lucas was apparently kneed in the back of the neck while on kickoff coverage. After a pileup, Lucas lay motionless on the field. Television replays showed Lucas bending down to make a tackle. The Dragons’ ball carrier and a blocker tumbled over his head and back, with the blocker’s leg appearing to hit Lucas in the head. Lucas did not move after falling to the ground.
“He wasn’t responding when they were calling his name,” said Garcia. “We thought it was a serious injury. They came out with the board immediately and we were worried that the worst had happened. You see that board and you just start praying.”
The only professional football player known to have died during a game was Detroit Lions wide receiver Chuck Hughes on Oct. 24, 1971. Hughes suffered a heart attack in the fourth quarter of the game against the Chicago Bears. Hughes entered the game late and ran a deep route over the middle. As he headed back to the huddle, he collapsed. Team doctor Richard Thompson tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate Hughes on the field and the game was finished in silence.
“At this time, the thoughts and prayers of the entire Avenger organization are with his wife and family,” team owner and chief executive Casey Wasserman said in a statement.
Lucas was married to De-Shonda Lucas and had a daughter, Mariah.
“It’s incredible,” Garcia said. “Here we are worrying about a game and worrying about our performance and then you hear the worst news of all and you realize what’s important.”
Lucas attended Troy State from 1996-99 and won the Buck Buchanan Award his senior season as the top defensive player in Division I-AA. In 43 games at Troy State he had 255 tackles and 11 1/2 sacks.
He was selected to the Arena League’s All-Rookie team in 2003 while playing for Tampa Bay.
“Al Lucas played arena football with passion and integrity. The entire AFL family extends its deepest sympathies to Al’s wife and family as well as his friends, family and teammates,” commissioner David Baker said in a statement.
In 1963, Kansas City rookie running back Stone Johnson died 10 days after he broke his neck in an exhibition game against the Houston Oilers. In the game played at Wichita, Kan., Johnson was hurt while blocking on a kickoff return.
In 1960, New York Titans tackle Howard Glenn injured his neck during a play in the first half and died soon afterward.
Washington Redskins tackle Dave Sparks and Chicago Cardinals tackle Stan Mauldin died of heart attacks after games. Sparks died in 1954 three hours after a game, while Mauldin collapsed in the locker room in 1948.
Two college football players died from neck-related injuries in the past 15 years. Mississippi defensive back Chucky Mullins died from injuries sustained on Oct. 28, 1989. Mullins was paralyzed when he broke his neck tackling Vanderbilt tailback Brad Gaines and died 18 months later on May 6, 1991, in a Memphis, Tenn., hospital.
Washington defensive back Curtis Williams was injured exactly 11 years later attempting to tackle Stanford running back Kerry Carter. He was paralyzed from the neck down and died May 6, 2002.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.