Jack Tatum, 1948–2010

The feared tackler who paralyzed an opponent

As a safety for the Oakland Raiders, Jack “the Assassin” Tatum made many bone-crunching tackles during his football career. But Tatum is mostly remembered for just one, which occurred during a 1978 preseason game against the New England Patriots. As receiver Darryl Stingley leaped and reached awkwardly for a pass, Tatum delivered a ferocious helmet-to-helmet hit. Horrified fans watched as Stingley crumpled to the ground, his fourth and fifth vertebrae shattered. The hit instantly rendered him a quadriplegic. Tatum never expressed any remorse for the tackle, writing afterward, in the first of three autobiographies, that “my best hits border on felonious assaults. I want to punish the man I’m going after.”

Tatum, who died last week after a long struggle with diabetes—which had claimed his left leg—never spoke to Stingley after that tackle, said the Associated Press. But he often wondered why he was considered the villain of the affair—after all, he said, tackling people was what he was paid to do. The National Football League didn’t punish him for the Stingley tackle, “but it did tighten its rules on violent hits.”

Born in 1948 in Cherryville, N.C., and reared in Passaic, N.J., Tatum didn’t play football until high school, said The New York Times. Recruited by Ohio State as a running back, Tatum was soon switched to defensive back, and was named college football’s top defensive player in 1970. Turning pro in 1971, he knocked out two opposing players in his debut game. He retired in 1980, forging a successful career in real estate and raising money for diabetes research.

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