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Paralyzed NFL Player Darryl Stingley Dies

Darryl Stingley watches from the sideline during an NFL football game between the Chicago Bears and New England Patriots in Chicago, in this Oct. 19, 1979 file photo. Stingley played football until Aug. 12, 1978, when the then 26-year-old receiver went up for a pass during an exhibition game and was hit hard from behind by Oakland Raiders safety Jack Tatum. The hit left Stingley paralyzed. (AP Photo/Fred Jewell)
AP Photo/Fred Jewell
Former New England Patriot receiver Darryl Stingley, who was paralyzed during a 1978 exhibition game, has died. He was 55.

Stingley was pronounced dead at Northwestern Memorial Hospital Thursday morning after he was found unresponsive in his home, according to Tony Brucci an investigator with the Cook County medical examiner's office.

An autopsy was scheduled for Thursday. His cause of death was not immediately available.

On Aug. 12, 1978, the then-26-year-old receiver went up for a pass during an exhibition game and was hit hard from behind by Oakland Raiders safety Jack Tatum. The hit broke his neck and left Stingley a quadriplegic for life.

"The best thing that resulted is that the game changed in terms of officiating and what they call excessive violence," Stingley told the Chicago Tribune in 2004. "It has opened the game up to allow receivers to get downfield. And it has made the game more exciting."

Stingley said he was buoyed by the support of fans and friends.

"I was at my peak at that time ... You have to try to find a rhyme or reason when things like that happen," he said in the 2004 interview. "It took me a while to exorcise all the demons."

He refused several opportunities to meet or appear with Tatum, including a special HBO attempted to put together for the accident's 25th anniversary.

"It seems like every time we get to that point, there is something on his side where he is trying to capitalize from it," he told the newspaper. "I'm not available to help people sell books."

Stingley was born and raised in Chicago. He was a star running back at John Marshall High School. He attended Purdue on a football scholarship.

In 1973, he was a first-round draft pick of the Patriots, currently owned by Robert Kraft.

"On behalf of the Kraft family and the entire Patriots organization, we're deeply saddened by news of Darryl Stingley's death, and our thoughts and prayers are with the Stingley family at this time," said team spokesman Stacey James.