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Paralyzed at 26, Local NFL Star Dies at 55

By Benjy Lipsman in News on Apr 6, 2007 12:52PM

Given the force that NFL players hit with, we are amazed that more of them don't get seriously injured. After all, that was our mom's biggest fear when Chicagoist initially went out for freshman football. And when we decided to give it up after two days — that makes her top-ten best days as a mom.

2007_04_sports_stingley.jpgUnfortunately, sometimes bad things do happen on the field. In 1978, 26-year-old Darryl Stingley, a wide receiver for the New England Patriots, was paralyzed after a vicious hit by Jack Tatum. While a legal hit, Stingley's injury forced the NFL to change the rulebook to better protect the players.

Tragedy struck Stingley again this week, when he passed away at 55 in his Chicago apartment. According to the autopsy, "bronchial pneumonia, quadriplegia, spinal-cord injury and coronary atherosclerosis [were] contributing factors."

Stingley grew up in Chicago and graduated from Marshall High School. He played college football at Purdue, and in 1973, he was selected by the Patriots in the first round of the NFL draft. He played five seasons in the NFL before Tatum's hit ended his career and confined him to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

But he didn't let that confinement get him down. His positive attitude and determination to go on with his life, as well as his desire to reach out to others in similar situations, defined him after his injury. He worked for the Pats for a number of years, returned to Purdue to finish his degree in 1992, and founded the Darryl Stingley Youth Foundation here in Chicago. He also published a memoir of his life and injury entitled Happy to be Alive.

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