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Roy Lee "Chucky" Mullins (July 8, 1969 in Russellville, Alabama – May 6, 1991 in Memphis, Tennessee) was an American football player at Ole Miss (University of Mississippi) best known for the devastating football injury that left him a quadriplegic.
Accident and aftermath
Mullins was injured on October 28, 1989, during the Ole Miss Rebels' Homecoming game against the Vanderbilt Commodores in Oxford. Mullins plunged head-first into a tackle of Vanderbilt fullback Brad Gaines after a short pass reception. The impact shattered four vertebrae in his cervical spine, immediately paralyzing him.
After being airlifted to Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis, Mullins underwent a tracheotomy and five-hour bone graft operation to fuse the vertebrae. Mullins never regained sensation below his neck; shortly before his death, however, he was able to move a hand across his body and touch his chest.
As soon as the injury occurred, Mullins became the recipient of a huge outpouring of community support. Ole Miss fans, college football fans in the South and people from all over the nation immediately began to donate money towards Mullin's growing medical expenses. President George H.W. Bush visited Mullins in his hospital room and encouraged him while on a visit to Memphis. Soon, Ole Miss established the "Chucky Mullins Trust Fund" to properly manage the donations. The city of Oxford donated land for a specially-designed, handicap-accessible house for Mullins. Donations to the trust fund eventually exceeded $1 million.
Mullins returned to Ole Miss on June 20, 1990 to complete his undergraduate studies.
Less than a year after returning to school, Mullins was stricken by a pulmonary embolism, caused by blood clots formed by inactivity and poor circulation. He died in the hospital on May 6, 1991 and was buried outside his home town of Russellville, Alabama.
During Mullins' time in the hospital, he and Gaines, who did not know each other before the accident, became close friends. Every year since Mullins' death, Gaines, alone, visits and maintains his friend's gravesite three times a year: May 6 (the anniversary of Mullins' death), October 28 (the anniversary of the injury) and December 25 (Christmas Day). Brad Gaines continues this personal tradition to this day.
Each spring, during the annual Grove Bowl (a game at the end of spring practices pitting Ole Miss players against each other), the player who most embodies Chucky Mullins' spirit and courage receives the "Chucky Mullins Memorial Courage Award". With the award, the player received the right to wear jersey number 38, the same number Chucky wore. Chucky's number 38 was retired on September 3, 2006 in a pregame ceremony before the Rebels' victory over Memphis. From 2006 until 2009, the winner of the "Chucky Mullins Memorial Courage Award" wore a patch in honor of this award. This was an unpopular move, and after changes to the award (any player is eligible, no longer just a rising senior defensive player), the number was returned to circulation in 2010, exclusively worn by the award winner.
Retired Ole Miss Number
Winners of the Chucky Mullins Courage Award
- 1990 – Chris Mitchell
- 1991 – Jeff Carter
- 1992 – Trea Southerland
- 1993 – Johnny Dixon
- 1994 – Alundice Brice
- 1995 – Michael Lowery
- 1996 – Derek Jones
- 1997 – Nate Wayne
- 1998 – Gary Thigpen
- 1999 – Ronnie Heard
- 2000 – Anthony Magee
- 2001 – Kevin Thomas
- 2002 – Lanier Goethie
- 2003 – Jamil Northcutt
- 2004 – Eric Oliver
- 2005 – Kelvin Robinson
- 2006 – Patrick Willis
- 2007 – Jeremy Garrett
- 2008 – Jamarca Sanford
- 2009 – Marcus Tillman
- 2010 – Kentrell Lockett
- 2011 – D. T. Shackleford
- 2012 – Jason Jones
- 2013 – Mike Marry
Mullins' story was memorialized in a documentary film, Undefeated: The Chucky Mullins Story.
- Current Auburn University defensive back Zach Gilbert, who is a cousin of Mullins, wore number 38 in his honor.
- Former Rebels and current 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis was the first recipient of the Chucky Mullins Award after the number was retired.
- A book was written by author Larry Woody about the incident: Dixie Farewell: The Life and Death of Chucky Mullins (1994) Eggman Publishing
- Undefeated: The Chucky Mullins Story
- The Ole Miss Athlete of the decade – The Daily Mississippian, 1995