NEW YORK (AP) – A football injury 25 years ago left Mike Utley paralyzed. The former Washington State and Detroit Lions offensive lineman played before concussion protocol, targeting fouls and rule tweaks intended to make a violent game safer.
Ask him about the way the game has changed over the years and he responds with a question: “Do I have to be politically correct?”
Utley still misses football and tries to stay as close to it as he can, whether he’s attending Cougars games in Pullman, Washington, or Lions games in Detroit or pee-wee games wherever. He was able to reconnect again on Tuesday as part of the National Football Foundation’s latest class to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Utley, who grew up in Seattle, was a three-time All-Pac 10 selection and an All-American as a senior in 1988 at Washington State. He was joined in the latest class of Hall of Famers by 13 players and two coaches:
Utley, 50, was drafted by the Detroit Lions in 1989 and became starter. In 1991, he suffered a catastrophic spinal cord injury during a game against the Rams at the Silverdome. The injury paralyzed him from the chest down, but he famously gave a thumbs-up as he was being taken off the field.
He said players today are “stronger, they’re faster, they’re meaner, tougher than what we were back down there.” But he doesn’t think the game needs to change.
“It’s a choice we all chose to cross that white line,” Utley said. “No. 1 it is our personal responsibility to take accountability for our own actions on and off the field.”
Utley blocked for record-breaking quarterbacks Timm Rosenbach and Mark Rypien at Washington State. He said the teammate he most wanted to share his Hall of Fame news with was no longer around. Chris Dyko was killed when a car hit him while he was riding his bicycle in January 2015. Dyko played right tackle next to Utley at guard for three seasons at Washington State.
“He was my right side and we were two peas in a pod,” Utley said. “I miss him the most him not being here.”
And when it comes to playing football, Utley said he has no regrets.
“When you ask me personally what I think of the game,” he said. “I miss it tremendously and I would go do it all over again even though I’m sitting in here a crippled dude.”
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press.