Jack Tatum, former Pro Bowl safety for the Oakland Raiders, dies of a heart attack
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Jack Tatum, the Pro Bowl safety for the Oakland Raiders best known for his crushing hit that paralyzed Darryl Stingley in an NFL preseason game in 1978, has died. He was 61.
Nicknamed “The Assassin,” Tatum, died of a heart attack Tuesday in an Oakland hospital, according to friend and former Ohio State teammate John Hicks. He had been waiting for a kidney transplant. Tatum had diabetes the past several years, and he had lost his left leg because of circulation problems.
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 slammed into Stingley with his helmet on a pass over the middle. The blow severed Stingley’s fourth and fifth vertebrae and left the receiver paralyzed from the neck down.
The two never met after the hit. Stingley died in 2007.
Tatum was not penalized on the play, and the NFL took no disciplinary action.
Despite Tatum’s failure to show remorse, Hicks said Tatum was haunted by the play.
“It was tough on him, too,” Hicks said. “He wasn’t the same person after that. For years he was almost a recluse.” Oakland’s Jack Tatum (32) hits Darryl Stingley (84) of New England during a preaseason game in 1978. Stingley was paralyzed from the neck down. The two never met after the play.
Tatum had said he tried to visit Stingley at an Oakland hospital shortly after the collision but was turned away by Stingley’s family members.
Part of the alienation came after Tatum wrote the 1980 book, “They Call Me Assassin,” in which he was unapologetic for his headhunting ways.
In a later book he wrote, “I was paid to hit, the harder the better. And I hit, and I knocked people down and knocked people out. … I understand why Darryl is considered the victim. But I’ll never understand why some people look at me as the villain.”
After a stellar career that included winning a national championship with Ohio State under coach Woody Hayes in 1968, Tatum was drafted in the first round by the Raiders in 1971. In nine seasons with the Raiders, Tatum started 106 of 120 games with 30 interceptions and helped Oakland win the 1976 Super Bowl. He played his final season with the Houston Oilers in 1980.
Tatum was a central figure in “The Immaculate Reception” in the Raiders’ 1972 playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. With 22 seconds left, Tatum jarred loose a pass to Frenchy Fuqua from Terry Bradshaw, and the ball ricocheted into the arms of Steelers running back Franco Harris. Harris never broke stride and ran 42 yards for the winning touchdown.
Despite their lingering resentment, Stingley was gracious in 2003 when he learned that Tatum had diabetes and several toes amputated.
“You can’t, as a human being, feel happy about something like that happening to another human being,” Stingley told The Boston Globe.
Tatum began a charitable group to help kids with diabetes and helped raise $1.4 million to fight the disease.