Raider legend Jack Tatum dies at the age of 61…


Jack Tatum, an All-Pro safety for the Oakland Raiders in the 1970s and one of the most feared hitters in NFL history, died Tuesday. He was 61.

Tatum, who was nicknamed “The Assassin,” suffered a heart attack in an Oakland hospital, said John Hicks, his friend and former Ohio State teammate. Hicks said Tatum had diabetes the last several years and also lost his left leg because of circulation problems.

“We are deeply saddened by the news of Jack Tatum’s passing,” the Raiders said in a statement. “Jack was a true Raider champion and a true Raider warrior. .. Jack was the standard bearer and an inspiration for the position of safety throughout college and professional football.”

Tatum, a first-round draft pick by the Raiders in 1971, might be best known for his hit that paralyzed New England Patriots wide receiver Darryl Stingley during an NFL preseason game on Aug. 12, 1978. Stingley ran head-on into Tatum on a crossing pattern, and the safety’s blow severed the receiver’s fourth and fifth vertebrae, leaving him paralyzed.

The two men never met after the hit. Stingley died in 2007.

Despite Tatum’s failure to show remorse, Hicks said his friend 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.”

Tatum had said he tried to visit Stingley at an Oakland hospital shortly after the collision but was turned away by the receiver’s family members.

“It’s not so much that Darryl doesn’t want to, but it’s the people around him,” Tatum told the Oakland Tribune in 2004. “So we haven’t been able to get through that. Every time we plan something, it gets messed up. Getting to him or him getting back to me, it never happens.”

Part of the alienation came after Tatum wrote the 1980 book, “They Call Me Assassin,” in which he was unapologetic for his headhunting ways. Tatum also wrote books titled “They Still Call Me Assassin: Here We Go Again” in 1989 and “Final Confessions of an NFL Assassin” in 1996.

In the latter, Tatum 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.”

Tatum wasn’t penalized for his hit on Stingley, and the NFL took no disciplinary action, although it did tighten its rules on violent hits.

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 assist kids with diabetes and helped raise more than $1.4 million to fight the disease in the Columbus area.

Tatum also was a central figure in “The Immaculate Reception” during the Raiders’ 1972 playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. With 22 seconds left in the game, Tatum jarred loose a pass to Frenchy Fuqua. The ball bounced off Fuqua’s foot and ricocheted into the arms of Steelers running back Franco Harris, who never broke stride and ran 42 yards for the winning touchdown.

Tatum started 106 of 120 games and had 30 interceptions in nine seasons with the Raiders, whom he helped win Super Bowl XI in the 1976 season. Tatum played his final NFL season with the Houston Oilers in 1980.

“R.I.P. Jack Tatum the assassin,” current Raiders safety Michael Huff wrote on Twitter after learning of Tatum’s death. “One of the best safetys to ever play this game, his legacy will live forever.”

Tatum grew up in New Jersey and had little interest in organized sports until high school. However, he grew to love football and was offered a scholarship to Ohio State.

Recruited as a running back, Tatum would sneak over to the defensive side to play linebacker. In time, Ohio State coaches — particularly secondary coach Lou Holtz — recognized that Tatum was a natural on defense.

Tatum was a part of the “super sophs” class that led Ohio State to an unbeaten season and the national championship in 1968. He stole the headlines in a showdown with No. 1 Purdue early in the season, shadowing All-American running back Leroy Keyes in the Buckeyes’ 13-0 upset of the Boilermakers.

In his three years as a starter at Ohio State, Tatum’s teams went 27-2 and won two Big Ten Conference titles.

Each week after an Ohio State game, the coaching staff awards the “Jack Tatum hit of the week” award for the hardest tackle or block by a Buckeye.

“We have lost one of our greatest Buckeyes,” current Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said in a statement released by the school. “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 is a member of the Ohio State and college football halls of fame.

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