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, 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 former Ohio 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 League and 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.”