For the keyboardist for Jimmy Buffett's Coral Reefer Band, see Michael Utley.
Mike Utley
Utley in Detroit in 2014
No. 60     
Personal information
Date of birth: (1965-12-20) December 20, 1965 (age 54)
Place of birth: Seattle, Washington
Career information
College: Washington State
NFL Draft: 1989 / Round: 3 / Pick: 59
No regular season or postseason appearances
Career history
* Detroit Lions ( 1989 1991)
Career highlights and awards
* First-team All-American (1988)
Games Played     32
Games Started     17
College Football Hall of Fame

Michael Gerard Utley (born December 20, 1965) is a retired American football player. He played for the Detroit Lions of the National Football League from 1989 through 1991, when he was paralyzed during a game.

Early life and college careerEdit

A graduate of Kennedy Catholic High School near Seattle, Utley attended Washington State University in Pullman and was a senior on the 1988 Cougar team which triumphed at the Aloha Bowl,[2] Washington State's first bowl victory since the 1916 Rose Bowl. He was also named MVP; that season, he earned consensus All-American honors,[3] only the second Cougar to do so. In 2004, Utley was elected into the WSU Athletic Hall of Fame,[4] and was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2016.[5]

NFL careerEdit

Utley was an offensive lineman with the Detroit Lions, picked in the third round of the 1989 NFL Draft, 59th overall.[6][7] In his rookie year, Utley became the starting right guard for the Lions. He started the first five games, but was injured in the fifth game against the Minnesota Vikings. Utley was put on injured reserve for the rest of the year.

In his second year in 1990, he fractured two ribs in the third preseason game, and was sidelined for the last preseason game and the first three regular season games. Utley came off the bench by playing in the second half of the next two games. Utley started in the sixth game, but dislocated his shoulder in the third quarter. He finished the season playing only in the second half of games.[citation needed]


In 1991, Utley started every game and was the full-time right guard until a paralysis injury on November 17 forced him to retire. Early in the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Rams, an injury to his sixth and seventh cervical vertebrae occurred.[8][9][10] Although he would later learn he was largely paralyzed from the chest down,[11] Utley flashed the crowd a "thumbs up" as he was being taken off the field. The thumbs up sign has become the symbol for the Mike Utley Foundation, a foundation created in 1991 by Utley and his agent Bruce Allen to help seek a cure for paralysis.

Utley began rehabilitation at Craig Hospital, which specializes in spinal cord injuries.[12] While the location of his injury makes him a quadriplegic by the standard medical definition, he has essentially complete use of his upper extremities, making him functionally a paraplegic.

Mike Utley FoundationEdit

The mission of the Mike Utley Foundation is to financially support an effective function-restoring treatment for spinal cord injuries, to encourage through education that of adopting a rehabilitative lifestyle for the spinal cord injured and a public awareness of spinal cord injuries.[13]


  1. "Ex-Cougar Utley wins Camp honor". The Seattle Times. January 8, 2007.
  2. "Mike Utley honored with alumni award". October 30, 2007.
  3. Bergum, Steve (April 23, 1989). "Tale of two 'student-athletes'". Spokesman-Review ((Spokane, Washington)): p. D4.
  4. WSU Athletic Hall of Fame — Mike Utley
  5. O'Hara, Mike (January 15, 2016). "Mike Utley elected to college football HOF". Detroit Lions. Retrieved January 15, 2016.
  6. Grummert, Dale (November 19, 1991). "Detroit picks Utley in third round". Lewiston Morning Tribune ((Idaho)): p. 1B.
  7. Gerheim, Earl; Bergum, Steve (April 24, 1989). "Mickel, Dyko go today". Spokane Chronicle ((Washington)): p. C1.
  8. Kole, Bill (November 19, 1991). "Utley still paralyzed, career probably over". Ludington Daily News. Associated Press ((Michigan)): p. 7.
  9. Sylvester, Curt (November 19, 1991). "Doctors wait to see if Utley spends life in wheelchair". Spokane Chronicle. Knight-Ridder ((Washington)): p. C1.
  10. "Utley remains paralyzed". Lewiston Morning Tribune. Associated Press ((Idaho)): p. 1B. November 19, 1991.
  11. Mike Utley Foundation - Finding a Cure for Paralysis
  12. Raley, Dan (August 28, 2008). "Where Are They Now: Mike Utley". Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

External linksEdit


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