Jack Tatum Dies of Heart Attack
Few athletes were ever known for one play like Tatum.
For despite three Pro Bowl appearances, a win on a Super Bowl team in Oakland and a degree of secondary fame as the Raider off whom the ball bounced to Franco Harris for the "Immacualte Reception,'' Tatum is always defined by a single hit: The one in a 1978 exhibition game that left Darryl Stingley a quadriplegic for life.
It not only changed the lives of the two men involved, it changed the NFL -- it can be argued that the league's emphasis on safety that continues today began because of that play.
Even before that, Tatum was known for his vicious hits on a Raiders team, run by Al Davis and coached by John Madden, that thrived on its fearsome image. A first-round pick by Oakland from Ohio State, the 18th overall, in 1971, Tatum was known as "The Assassin.'' "I like to believe that my best hits border on felonious assault,'' he once said.
That statement haunted him after that play on Aug. 12, 1978, when Tatum hit Stingley in the back just as he caught the ball over the middle in that meaningless game at the Oakland Coliseum. Stingley lay motionless on the field and never regained use of either his arms or legs, dying in 2007 at age 55 of heart disease and pneumonia caused by his quadraplegic state.
Stingley never blamed Tatum and there was no penalty on the play for what at the time was a clean hit -- it most likely would not be today. And Tatum never modified his style, which endures on NFL highlight reels in a hit Tatum made on Vikings receiver Sammy White in a 32-14 win by the Raiders in Super Bowl XI.
The Stingley play also overshadows Tatum's role in the "Immaculate Reception'' and is the one with which his name is most often associated. Even today, NFL officials recall it when they talk about penalties on safeties for hitting receivers over the middle, and the late Gene Upshaw, longtime head of the players union and Tatum's teammate in Oakland, worked with Stingley to help increase benefits for injured former players.
Tatum and Stingley never communicated much after that although both Madden and Upshaw were close to Stingley, who worked for the Patriots until his death.
Tatum was a three-time first-team All-Big Ten player for Woody Hayes' Buckeyes from 1968-70 and twice earned All-America honors.
"We have lost one of our greatest Buckeyes," current Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel said in a statement. "When you think of Ohio State defense, the first name that comes to mind is Jack Tatum. His loss touches every era of Ohio State players and fans."
Tatum had been in ill-health for some time.
After retiring from the NFL, Tatum battled with diabetes, a disease that wound up forcing the amputation of all five toes on his left foot, then later his right leg.
-- NFL editor Chris Burke contributed to this report.