Jack Tatum: American footballer famed and feared for his heavy hitting

For all the excitement of its long touchdown passes, or the cerebral nature of its complicated tactics, American football remains at heart a battle between blocker and defender, ball-carrier and tackler, a game of violence epitomised by "The Assassin" Jack Tatum. Tatum was a great defender because he was one of the game's hardest hitters, but his legacy will be just one hit, the one which left Darryl Stingley paralysed for the rest of his life.

Tatum's collision with Stingley came in a pre-season "exhibition" game in Oakland in August 1978. Stingley, a wide receiver for New England Patriots, was cutting across the middle of the field, looking back for the pass from his quarterback. Tatum, the Oakland Raiders' safety, was approaching from behind him, the situation when his reputation would cause many players to "hear footsteps". The pass was high and slightly behind Stingley, who contorted himself in mid-air; as the ball passed by, Tatum launched himself and met Stingley's neck with his shoulder pads. Stingley crumpled to the ground, two vertebrae severed. Stingley retained movement only in one hand; he would be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

Tatum's refusal to apologise saw him portrayed as a villain. As he explained in 2003, "I didn't apologise... that was football. I was sorry that he got hurt. But to go out and apologise for the way I played football? That is never going to happen... Even today, people still think I'm a bad guy... what did I do wrong?" Tatum's hit was legal, though rules were later changed to protect players in defenceless positions. But Tatum also celebrated his fearsome reputation. He published three autobiographies, each of which contained "Assassin" in the title. "I like to believe that my best hits border on felonious assault," he said in the first, They Call Me Assassin (1980).

Tatum's parents moved to New Jersey from North Carolina when he was seven. As a running back and linebacker he led Passaic High School to the state championship, becoming New Jersey's most recruited star. He chose Ohio State University, where the legendary coach Woody Hayes made him a defensive back. His class of "super sophomores" led the Buckeyes to an undefeated national championship in 1968; he was all-American the next two seasons.

The Raiders chose him with the 19th pick of the 1971 NFL draft; in his first NFL game his tackle knocked out the All-Pro tight end John Mackey, then another knocked out his replacement, Tom Mitchell.

With cornerbacks Willie Brown and Skip Thomas, and safety George Atkinson, Tatum transformed Oakland's secondary into the "Soul Patrol", a key part of head coach John Madden's decision to build an intimidating defence. Yet Tatum's hitting also caused the Raiders' most infamous loss, in the 1972 play-offs to Pittsburgh. Oakland led 7-6 with 22 seconds left, when Tatum jarred a desperation pass out of "Frenchy" Fuqua's hands. The Steelers' Franco Harris grabbed the ball just before it hit the ground, and took the "Immaculate Reception" 42 yards for the game-winning score.

Tatum's Raiders finally won the Super Bowl in January 1977. Tatum's hit on Minnesota receiver Sammy White, knocking White's helmet five yards downfield, remains that game's most memorable image. Reflecting the continuing ambiguity of the role of violence in football, Tatum's hit would be celebrated in countless highlight reels, including recently when NFL Films named him the sixth most-feared defender in NFL history.

In 1980 Tatum was traded to Houston, registering a career-best seven interceptions in his final season. After retiring, he invested in real estate and restaurants, and was an intimidating presence with the NFL's "fashion police", making sure players' uniforms complied with league regulations. In 2003, diabetes resulted in the amputation of half his right leg and the toes of his left foot. His response was to start a charity in Oakland which has raised $1.4m for diabetic children.

Darryl Stingley died in 2005. Asked about Tatum's amputations in 2003, he said, "I forgave Jack Tatum years ago. As a result, I was able to go on with my life without looking back with bitterness." But after that tackle, the two men never met and never spoke.



John (Jack) David Tatum, American football player: born Cherryville, North Carolina 18 November 1948; married (three children); died Oakland, California 27 July 2010.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
New Articles
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering