Darren Drozdov, a former N.F.L. football player who pursued a career in pro wrestling that was cut short after an accident in the ring that paralyzed him, died on Friday. He was 54.
His death, at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center in Pomona, N.J., was confirmed by his sister, Rommi Drozdov, and his agent and longtime friend, Cliff Stein. A cause of death was not immediately clear.
Before Mr. Drozdov made his mark in the wrestling world, he first came to the public’s attention as an N.FL. player after he vomited on a football at a Monday night game, Mr. Stein said. Some reports indicate that he puked more than once.
Mr. Drozdov grew up in Mays Landing, N.J., where he spent most of his adult life. He attended the University of Maryland, where he played football, and graduated in 1992 with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.
After graduation, he was signed as an undrafted rookie for the Denver Broncos. Mr. Drozdov, who was 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighed 280 pounds when he played football, also had stints with the New York Jets and Philadelphia Eagles.
While he was playing for the Montreal Alouettes, a professional Canadian football team, he started to think about a career in pro wrestling, Mr. Stein said. It was something that had always been in the back of his mind.
“His personality was so colorful, and the mohawks and the tattoos and the way he talked, everyone would say, ‘You are a wrestler,’” Mr. Stein recalled. “He would call you ‘brother.’ He’d pick you up. His presence was so big.”
Mr. Drozdov, who was known as Droz and Puke, was eventually accepted to a WWE training program. After that, he was put into more matches. He became a member of the Road Warriors, a popular tag team, and became known for his “Droz’s World” vignettes, the WWE said.
Early in his career, he was in a WWE training program with other notable wrestlers like Matt Bloom, known as Prince Albert, and Dwayne Johnson, the actor known as the Rock, who mourned Mr. Drozdov’s death on Twitter.
“We wrestled on a lot of cards together,” Mr. Johnson wrote. “Such an awesome dude. Great personality and great wrestling talent. We always talked about football and fishing. Sending love, strength, mana and light to his family. RIP brother.”
During a 1999 wrestling match at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., Mr. Drozdov sustained an injury that rendered him quadriplegic, bringing his wrestling career to an end.
He fractured two discs in his neck in a stunt gone wrong after he was thrown to the mat by his opponent, D’Lo Brown, and landed on his head instead of his back.
Mr. Drozdov was born in Wilmington, Del., on April 7, 1969, the son of Olaf and Cyndi Drozdov. His mother worked in real estate and owned three laundromats, and his father was a professor at Atlantic Cape Community College in New Jersey.
Survivors include Mr. Drozdov’s parents and his sister. A marriage in 1999 ended in divorce in 2001.
Mr. Drozdov’s sister helped care for him after he was injured. He spent much of his time cheering on her four children, she said.
“He loved watching them grow up,” Ms. Drozdov said. “He would go to all the soccer games, football, tennis, everything. You could always find him on a sideline that my kids are on.”
He also continued to hunt, one of many outdoor sports he enjoyed.
Kevin Plank, Mr. Drozdov’s friend and the founder of the sportswear company Under Armour, facilitated the design of a wheelchair that was essentially a “tank with wheels,” allowing Mr. Drozdov to move through the woods, Mr. Stein said.
Mr. Drozdov’s family members described him as being relentlessly positive in the aftermath of the wrestling accident.
In a statement, they cited his own words.
“There is always another day,” he said. “Just because I’m paralyzed and stuck in a wheelchair doesn’t mean my life is over. I’ve learned to live again, and my life is far from over.”