MAYS LANDING — Henry Stuckey sat in obscurity Friday in Atlantic County Superior Court as other defendants shuffled before a judge, pleading to crimes, being sentenced to prison or probation, scheduling their next court dates.
Then it was his turn. His attorney spoke: Your Honor, Mr. Stuckey was a professional football player with the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins. He has had multiple concussions.
Stuckey, 66, a backup defensive back with the team, accepted a plea deal for third-degree aggravated assault against another resident at the Baltic Plaza apartments in Atlantic City in July and received three years probation.
Stuckey told Judge Bernard DeLury about his mental issues, that he was going on medication and anger management. His attorney said it was his first felony indictment.
Outside court, Stuckey mentioned concussions and head injuries he suffered playing football, including once in 1973 when he was knocked unconscious trying to tackle Pittsburgh Steelers star running back Franco Harris in the open field. His memory suffers, he said.
His attorney, Ed Thompson, said he has medical records showing cognitive impairment.
“I just don’t want people to think I’m a fruitcake, which I’m halfway there because of all the concussions,” Stuckey said. “My neck is shrunk, the right side of my body gets temporarily paralyzed. I had wrist problems, my hip, I’ve got so much wrong with me, sir, you don’t know. And it all came from football.”
The role of head injuries in football has become a growing debate following suicides of star players such as NFL linebacker Junior Seau and reports of players losing memories and suffering from long-term effects of repeated head injuries, such as dementia and loss of cognitive abilities.
The National Institutes of Health said athletes who receive concussions and return to play before they are fully recovered risk long-term symptoms such as cognitive defects, headaches and dizziness.
Stuckey, who is retired, said he should have run from an altercation with a man, rather than punch the man in the face.
“I’m just happy I didn’t hurt him more,” he said.
“All those concussions gave me an irresponsible way of analyzing stuff,” he said.
An eighth-round pick and a backup defensive back with the 1972 team, Stuckey also won a Super Bowl with the Dolphins the next year and later played several seasons for the New York Giants.
“I always dealt with my mental issues,” Stuckey said. “I just didn’t want to be bothered.”
After football, Stuckey moved to California to be a tailor — the family trade — and then Atlantic City, where he worked at a Kentucky Avenue shop, as a waiter for casinos and for the former Shore Memorial Hospital, now Shore Medical Center, he said.
He says he still has two Super Bowl rings from the Dolphins in a family vault in Arkansas. But, he said, if he could go back in time, he would have never played football.
“I can’t sit down, I can run but I have to stop because I get dizzy,” he said. “We come out of there beat up, really beat up.”