COLUMBUS, Ohio — Jack Tatum, the Pro Bowl safety for the Oakland Raiders best known for his crushing hit that paralyzed Darryl Stingley in an NFL pre-season game in 1978, has died. He was 61.
Tatum, who was nicknamed "The Assassin," died of a heart attack Tuesday in an Oakland hospital, according to friend and former Ohio State teammate John Hicks.
Hicks said Tatum had diabetes the past several years, and had lost his left leg because of circulation problems.
On Aug. 12, 1978, in a pre-season game against the New England Patriots, the hard-hitting Tatum slammed into Stingley with his helmet while the receiver was running a pass pattern. The blow severed Stingley's fourth and fifth vertebrae and left the receiver paralyzed from the neck down.
The two never met after the hit. Stingley died in 2007.
Tatum was not penalized on the play and the NFL took no disciplinary action, but it did tighten its rules on violent hits.
Despite Tatum's failure to show remorse, Hicks said Tatum 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 Stingley'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.
In nine seasons with the Raiders, Tatum started 106 of 120 games with 30 interceptions, and he helped Oakland win the 1976 Super Bowl.
Tatum was a central figure in "The Immaculate Reception" in the Raiders' 1972 playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. With 22 seconds left, Tatum jarred loose a pass to Frenchy Fuqua from Terry Bradshaw, and the ball bounced off Fuqua's foot and ricocheted into the arms of Steelers running back Franco Harris. Harris never broke stride and ran 42 yards for the winning touchdown.
Despite their lingering resentment, Stingley was gracious in 2003 when he learned that Tatum had diabetes and had 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.
In his three years as a starter, Tatum's teams at Ohio State went 27-2 and won two Big Ten titles.
"We have lost one of our greatest Buckeyes," current Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said in a statement. "When you think of Ohio State defense, the first name that comes to mind is Jack Tatum."