Jack Tatum passed away on July 27, 2010 at the age of 61. His reputation as the hardest hitting player of his era was well deserved as several of his hits on opposing receivers and running backs are still talked about today. About what other player, with the possible exception of Lawrence Taylor, can this be said?
The hit on Sammy White in the Superbowl sent White’s helmet flying upfield in such a manner that a woman sitting next to Al Davis exclaimed, “He’s lost his head!” The oft-rerun hit on Earl Campbell at the goal line when both players were basically knocked out on the play. The hit on Riley Odom in which witnesses swore Odom’s eyes rolled back into his head. And finally, the infamous Darryl Stingley hit that broke two of Stingley’s vertebrae and paralyzed him for life.
Tatum wrote one of the first football memoirs I ever read, They Call Me Assassin.
I was fascinated by the inside look at pro football and, even today, Tatum’s no-holds-barred evaluations of his fellow NFL players stands alone for his willingness to be blunt and honest. He reserves a great deal of scorn for the Raiders’ bitter rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Franco Harris is characterized as a big wimp, Jack Lambert overrated, and Lynn Swann a faker of head injuries. You won’t see any recent football books making these kinds of observations as players today are far too afraid of offending others in the “fraternity”.
Stingley never forgave Tatum for not coming to see him in the hospital and wrote about his bitterness at length in his book Happy To Be Alive. Tatum expresses regret over what happened to Stingley, but attributes much of the blame to the rules of the game that encourage the kinds of hits that caused Stingley’s injury. Tatum goes over many of the rules of the time (1978) and suggests changes such as outlawing pump faking and the quick slant. Much has been done since that fateful play to protect NFL players, so much that some people complain that the game is no longer violent enough. Due to these changes and the changes in the attitude of today’s players, we will never again see the like of Jack “The Assassin” Tatum.
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