‘We both have to win’: How Mike Utley’s wife Dani is his rock every day

‘I have never seen Mike’s condition as a challenge’

Thirty year after the former Detroit Lions lineman's career-ending injury, Mike Utley’s life now revolves around two vitals: His wife and his wheelchair. For more coverage: https://www.clickondetroit.com/topic/Mike_Utley/

HURRICANE, Utah – “Winning is the only way to go. No. 2 sucks.”

And that sums up Mike Utley’s world. “Just win baby,” as the late Al Davis would say to his Oakland Raiders.

Utley was a Detroit Lions lineman until a freak, otherwise routine-looking blocking play during a game on Nov. 17, 1991 at the Pontiac Silverdome. A Los Angeles Rams player came down over top of him, sending his chin into the turf at the Silverdome. Utley was paralyzed from the waist down.

Thirty years later, Utley’s life now revolves around two vitals: His wife and his wheelchair. That’s why Dani Utley plays such an important role. Even Mike admits he can’t get away with anything with Dani in charge.

“Blaming the wheelchair, it ain’t going to happen anymore,” he said.

Interview part 1: Mike Utley on career-ending injury 30 years later: ‘I have no regrets. I would do it all over again’

Mike Utley's injury on Nov. 17, 1991 is one of the most devastating moments in Detroit sports history. WDIV Local 4's Bernie Smilovitz caught up with him to discuss his life 30 years later. More coverage: https://www.clickondetroit.com/topic/Mike_Utley/

Dani is 53 years old and they’ve been married for 20 years. He was working out at a gym in Washington state when Cupid struck.

“We both have to win,” said Dani. “We just started talking. I didn’t even notice the wheelchair. He’s just so much bigger than life. You know it probably was (love at first sight).”

Mike and Dani Utley (WDIV)

Mike said he saw a chance he wanted to take.

“I just saw a pretty gal and thought I would take my swing at the baseball plate, you know, swing batter, batter, batter, swing,” he said.

Mike and Dani Utley (WDIV)

What’s it like being married to Mike Utley?

“Knowing him makes me better every day because he is constantly challenging me. Being married to him is making me a better person every day,” said Dani.

Not only does this former firefighter, paramedic, EMT, flight medic, and deputy coroner care for Mike, she also cares for her mom who lives next door and is ill. Dani’s plate is full from the time she wakes up to the moment she goes to sleep.

“I have never seen Mike’s condition as a challenge. Not as a unique challenge. I think everyone has challenges, they are all different ... but we just go with the flow,” said Dani.

One thing you do notice when you see them together is the competitive nature built into the relationship. He treats her like she’s one of the guys. And it’s been that way since day one.

Mike and Dani Utley (WDIV)

“It took time, and then I see she was moldable and trainable and I said that is the one I like,” said Mike.

As for emotions, Dani has the perfect take on her husband:

“You know Mike doesn’t change. He is like this 24/7. He is consistent. He doesn’t waste his time on emotions that are not productive,” said Dani.

Mike said he married up in the gene pool.

“My journey with Danielle the past 23 years has been absolutely great. I have no regrets. I picked up the evolution chain, I went forward,” said Mike.

We asked Dani if she had not come along, would Mike still be here today?

“Oh gosh. I would like to think that Mike is where he is at today because I helped him to get to where he is at today, but honestly Mike is going to win no matter what because it’s just in him to do that,” said Danie.

Former Detroit Lions teammate Lomas Brown emphatically said no.

“No, you wouldn’t have Mike. I mean, she is a saint man,” said Brown.

🔒Extended cut: Lomas Brown discusses Mike Utley’s injury, 1991 Detroit Lions 30 years later

Mike and Dani Utley (WDIV)

Even Dani marvels at Utley’s positive attitude. No matter how bleak things look, Utley refuses to go negative.

“He’s not negative. In fact I never heard Mike say ‘I can’t,’ ever. I have never met anyone like Mike, not more positive, not even equal, actually,” she said.

Does she believe Mike will walk one day?

“I would never say never. Every day he works at being able to walk again. So he’ll be prepared. He’ll be ready for when that day happens. Will he walk today or tomorrow? Who knows. But he’ll be ready for it,” she said.

No matter how this story ends it has been a blissful 20 years for the Utley’s. Filled with many, many highs and certainly its share of lows. But through it all Dani Utley remains stoic and strong with the love of her life.

“This is the fairytale wedding, it is. It can’t get any better, in my opinion,” said Dani.

The Utley’s want everyone to know that the Ford family and the Lions have taken care of him since that day in November 1991.

More coverage: Mike Utley page

🔒From the Vault: Detroit Lions lineman Mike Utley paralyzed in game against LA Rams on Nov. 17, 1991

About the Author:

Bernie brings sports to Metro Detroit. You can catch him on Local 4 News weekdays at 5, 6 and 11 p.m.