Jack Tatum, an All-American defensive back at Ohio State and an all-pro with the Oakland Raiders died of a heart attack Tuesday. He was 61. Tatum played in the NFL from 1971-80 and after retiring, he suffered diabetes-related issues the rest of his life.
Tatum, who reveled in his NFL nickname -- ""The Assassin," -- was involved in two of the most memorable plays in NFL history. In an August, 1978 preseason game against the New England Patriots, Tatum slammed into receiver Darryl Stingley, severing Stingley’s fourth and fifth vertebrae, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down.
Tatum loved his reputation as a brutal hitter, and he later wrote in his autobiography that he did not accept the role of villain that some placed him in after the Stingley incident.
"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."
The two never met after the incident. After the game, Tatum and teammate Phil Villapiano went to the hospital but were not allowed to see Stingley by his family. Stingley passed away 2007.
Despite still holding some bitter feelings, Stingley was gracious in 2003 when he learned 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 was part of the Ohio State Buckeyes sophomore class of 1968 that helped the Buckeyes win the National Championship that season. Ohio State was 27-2 his three varsity years. Tatum was recruited as a running back, but kept trying to work his way to the defensive side. Finally Lou Holtz, who was the secondary coach for Ohio State, convinced Woody Hayes to move him to that side of the ball.
In 2009, NFL.com ranked Tatum as the sixth most feared tackler of all-time.
Tatum was also involved in the famous "The Immaculate Reception" play in the 1972 Oakland-Pittsburgh play off game.
His love of hitting also led to a legendary meeting at the goal line with Earl Campbell. The two met at the one-yard line in the Astrodome with both delivering withering hits. Campbell was staggered, but he made it into the end zone.
The only thing that Jack Tatum didn't do was wrap me up so I backed into the endzone backwards. said Campbell. "After the game, he said, "That's the best I had." And I said, "That's the best I had, too."
You can find the play at the 3:00 minute mark of this highlight reel. Don't fast forward but enjoy some of the finest work from the best football player I have ever laid eyes on.