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John David Tatum 1
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Jack Tatum, Whose Tackle Paralyzed Player, Dies at 61



Jack Tatum, the former Oakland Raiders player who earned the nickname the Assassin for his brutal hits, none of them more devastating than a blow that left New England Patriots wide receiver Darryl Stingley paralyzed in 1978, died Tuesday in Oakland, Calif. He was 61.

Ben Margot/Associated Press

Tatum in October 2009

Ron Riesterer/Oakland Tribune, via Associated Press

New England receiver Darryl Stingley, right, was left a quadriplegic in 1978 after absorbing a hit from Oakland’s Jack Tatum.

Enlarge This Image Richard Drew/Associated Press

Tatum, known as the Assassin, burnished the Raiders’ outlaw image with hits like this one on Minnesota’s Sammy White.

The Raiders announced his death on their Web site. The cause was a heart attack, Tatum’s friend and formerOhio State teammate John Hicks told The Associated Press. Tatum had suffered from diabetes in recent years, leading to the amputation of a leg.

Tatum played 10 seasons in the National Football Leagueand won a Super Bowl ring in 1977 with the Raiders, whose outlaw image was enhanced by Tatum’s ferocious style of play.

Tatum, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, was one of the most feared hitters in football, and he came to be a symbol of a violent game. “I like to believe that my best hits border on felonious assault,” he wrote in a 1980 book, “They Call Me Assassin.”

His collision with Stingley, one of the most indelible in N.F.L. history, defined Tatum’s reputation. It came on Aug. 12, 1978, in a preseason game against the Patriots at Oakland Coliseum. Stingley was running a crossing pattern, and the force of the hit fractured two vertebrae in Stingley’s neck and severely damaged his spinal cord, leaving him a quadriplegic.

No penalty flags were thrown and Tatum was not disciplined — but Stingley and Tatum never reconciled. Tatum did not apologize for the hit, earning him considerable national scorn.

“It was tough on him, too,” Hicks told The A.P. “He wasn’t the same person after that. For years he was almost a recluse.”

In his 1980 book, Tatum wrote: “When the reality of Stingley’s injury hit me with its full impact, I was shattered. To think that my tackle broke another man’s neck and killed his future.”

In 1996, Tatum and Stingley were supposed to meet for a television appearance, but Stingley called it off after being told it was to publicize a book written by Tatum. Stingley died in 2007 at the age of 55.

“It’s not so much that Darryl doesn’t want to, but it’s the people around him,” Tatum told The Oakland Tribune in 2004. “So we haven’t been able to get through that. Every time we plan something, it gets messed up. Getting to him or him getting back to me, it never happens.”

Tatum was involved in a number of plays that have become enshrined in N.F.L. history. In the 1977 Super Bowl against the Minnesota Vikings, he hit Vikings wide receiver Sammy White so hard that White’s helmet flew off, a play immortalized on highlight reels.

And it was Tatum’s hit on Pittsburgh receiver Frenchy Fuqua in a 1972 playoff game that sent a Terry Bradshaw pass ricocheting into the arms of Franco Harris, who ran the ball in for the winning Steelers touchdown, a play christened the Immaculate Reception.

John David Tatum was born on Nov. 18, 1948, in Cherryville, N.C., and grew up in Passaic, N.J., where he did not start playing football until he was at Passaic High School. He was such a gifted athlete that Ohio State Coach Woody Hayes recruited him as a running back before he was moved to defensive back — partly at the behest of the assistant coach Lou Holtz — where he became a two-time all-American, won a national championship in 1968 and was named the nation’s best defensive player in 1970.

Ohio State now gives the Jack Tatum Hit of the Week award to its football players.

Tatum was drafted 19th over all by the Raiders in 1971, and his hard-hitting style was obvious from his first N.F.L. appearance. In that game, against the Baltimore Colts, Tatum knocked out two Colts tight ends.

Tatum was traded to the Houston Oilers in 1980 and played his last season with them before retiring at the end of the season. Afterward he worked in real estate, was a part-owner of a restaurant and worked to promote diabetes research.

He is survived by his wife, Denise, and their three children.

Besides “They Call Me Assassin,” Tatum wrote two other books, “They Still Call Me Assassin: Here We Go Again” (1989) and “Final Confessions of an NFL Assassin” (1996).

“I was paid to hit, the harder the better,” he wrote in the final book. He added: “I understand why Darryl is considered the victim. But I’ll never understand why some people look at me as the villain.”

Jack Tatum dies at 61; Oakland Raider safety whose hit left Darryl Stingley paralyzed Tatum was an All-American at Ohio State and a first-round draft pick. In 1978, he collided with Stingley, leaving the New England receiver a near-quadriplegic.

  Jack Tatum, the storied Oakland Raiders safety best known for landing the hit that paralyzed New England receiver Darryl Stingley, has died. He was 61.

Tatum, among the most feared and respected NFL players of his era, died of a heart attack Tuesday morning in an Oakland hospital. He had been waiting for a kidney transplant.

Tatum was a sledgehammer in Oakland's "Soul Patrol" secondary of the 1970s that also included safety George Atkinson, cornerback Skip Thomas and Hall of Fame cornerback Willie Brown.

"As many big plays as Jack made, it let you know this guy knew where to be when the chips were down," Atkinson said. "Guys didn't want to come across the middle because getting hit by him was like getting hit by a truck. He was devastating with his timing and his angles of contact."

Never was that more true than on Aug. 12, 1978, in an exhibition game against the Patriots, when Tatum hit Stingley on a pass over the middle. The collision broke Stingley's fourth and fifth vertebrae, leaving the receiver almost totally paralyzed from the neck down. (Stingley, who died in 2007 technically had "incomplete quadriplegia" because he had limited use of his right arm.) He is believed to be the only NFL player to have suffered that degree of paralysis as the result of a football injury.

"It was a slant and they throw it in the middle," John Madden, Tatum's former coach, recalled. Tatum is "going for the ball, Stingley is going for the ball. Stingley leaves his feet, they have a collision, and Stingley doesn't get up. Even saying that, you get that feeling in the pit of your stomach. That's something no one wants. You never want to hear about it. You never want to see it."

Outside of his close circle of friends, who swear he had an easy smile and infectious laugh, Tatum largely kept to himself in public settings, which only seemed to make him more intimidating. Madden said the Stingley hit affected the Raiders star.

"He never talked about things, and you couldn't get him to talk about it," the coach said. "It was something that ate on him for his whole life."

Tatum was not contrite about the hit.

"I'm not going to beg forgiveness," he told the Bergen County (N.J.) Record in 2003. "That's what people say: You never apologized. I didn't apologize for the play. That was football."

A year later, however, Tatum told the Oakland Tribune he had tried to visit Stingley in an Oakland hospital shortly after the incident but was turned back by the receiver's family. They never met after the hit.

After Tatum's left leg was amputated below the knee as a result of diabetes in 2003, Stingley was interviewed by The Times. He said he no longer harbored ill feelings about the hit.

"I forgave Jack Tatum years ago," Stingley said. "You forgive, but you just don't forget. In my heart and in my mind, I've forgiven him and moved on. As a result, I was able to go on with my life without looking back with bitterness."

Born John David Tatum in Cherryville, N.C., on Nov. 18, 1948, Tatum was raised in Passaic, N.J. He played under Woody Hayes at Ohio State, was first-team All-Big Ten player from 1968 to 1970, and a unanimous All-American in 1969 and 1970, even garnering Heisman Trophy votes. He was selected 19th by the Raiders, a team desperate for some defensive stability.

"The year before we drafted Jack, we weren't a good tackling team," Madden said. "When you go through a year and you don't tackle well, that really bugs you. So when we went into the draft I said, `I want to get the best tacklers we can find and I want to take them early. We took Jack, and we never had a tackling problem the rest of his years there."

Tatum played nine seasons for the Raiders, intercepting 30 passes and helping the franchise win the Super Bowl after the 1976 season. He played his final season with the Houston Oilers in 1980.

Madden said that Tatum's "toughness, tackling ability, and what he represented just rubbed off on everyone."

Years after his playing career, when he worked first as a Raiders employee and then as a member of the NFL's so-called fashion police, making sure players' uniforms were to code, Tatum — with his cowboy boots, thick moustache and wild, salt-and-pepper hair — cut an imposing figure.

"Even when he was in his late 40s, he was an intimidating guy," said sportscaster Greg Papa, longtime radio play-by-play man for Raiders games. "He'd sit way in the back of the bus, and I'd envision that's the way he did it when he was playing.

"He wasn't real talkative. You had to engage him. It wasn't like hanging around Ted Hendricks or Phil Villapiano, one of those larger-than-life Raider characters. Jack was soft spoken. But when other guys were around him, he was a commanding presence."

As much as Tatum intimidated, he also inspired. Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott, who was to the 1980s what Tatum was to the 1970s, called the Raiders standout one of his football heroes.

"One of his greatest hits I ever saw was him hitting Earl Campbell at the goal line," Lott said, about the Oilers running back. "There's a fearlessness that comes with those hits. It's a commitment to hit a person as if you're going to hit all the way to his back side. It was unbelievable. When a guy hits like that, it's almost as if the air just gets still."

Even though the safety co-wrote a book called "They Call Me Assassin" after his career ended, Tatum was never called "The Assassin" during his playing career, Madden said.

"After the book, people started to call him `The Assassin' and say that that was his nickname, which was never true, and that he called himself an assassin, which he didn't," Madden said. "The story is that he's a high school All-American and he's recruited to Ohio State as a hitter. And he's praised to be a hitter. And he plays at Ohio State and he's an All-American, because he's a hitter. And he goes to the pros and is a first-round draft choice because he's a hitter.

"And then he hits a guy, the guy doesn't get up, and they call him an assassin."

Tatum is survived by his wife and three children.

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