Mike Utley "Thumbs up"
Do you remember where you were or what you were doing on Sunday, November 17th, 1991?  For many of us, it's easy. It was a Sunday, and we were watching football like any other Sunday in November. If you were watching football, do you remember what happened that day?  Late in the fourth quarter in a game between the Detroit Lions and Los Angeles Rams, veteran Mike Utley attempted a pass block and went down with an injury that would change his life.

Mike was carted off the field on a stretcher with his head braced and with a great show of unbelievable courage, he gave a “thumbs up” to his teammates and the Pontiac Silverdome crowd.  The injury was to his spinal cord and it paralyzed him, but one month after his injury, the Mike Utley Foundation was founded and "Thumbs Up" was its slogan.  

It took nearly eight years of grueling rehab for this professional athlete, who was once described by former teammate Chris Speilman as "country strong" and for whom playing against was described as "like wrestling with a bear," to take his first steps since his injury. That day should be remembered too, as it marked the eventual return of Mike Utley to things he once enjoyed like skydiving and even jogging. It was February 15th, 1999, and a lot of good has come from Mike Utley’s tragedy since then.

In recent weeks, the NFL has seen more tragedy with spinal cord injuries to
Buffalo Bills tight end Kevin Everett and Seattle Seahawks fullback Mack Strong.  These injuries have brought Mike Utley and his foundation back into the spotlight.  It appears Kevin Everett, whose injury was originally diagnosed as life threatening could be walking again soon.  Mack Strong, a 15 year veteran and former Pro Bowler will retire due to the injury, but his life should remain unaltered.

Those of us who love football like watching hard hits, and sometimes we forget about the risk that is undertaken by these players when they step onto the field. While helmets and pads provide protection, injuries still happen. Every year dozens and dozens of players are injured. Bones are broken, careers are ended, and more than just pride is hurt.  It’s important to remember that when these guys are playing the game so many people love to watch, that when we’re cheering a big hit, somebody who gets injured might not stand again.

For more information on spinal cord injuries, you can visit

By T. Lloyd, 20Yardline.com
October 11, 2007