From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
John David Tatum (born November 18, 1948) is a
former American football defensive back
who played ten seasons from 1971 to 1980 for the Oakland Raiders and Houston
Oilers in the National Football League. He
is popularly known as "The Assassin." He was
voted to three Pro Bowls (1973-1975) and was a member of one Super Bowl winning team
in his nine seasons with the Raiders.
Tatum earned a reputation as a fierce competitor and was
considered as one of the hardest hitters ever to play the game. In a
recent poll by Sports Illustrated on the century's
best defensive backs, Tatum finished with eight percent of the
vote. He is
best known for a hit he made against former New
England Patriots wide receiver Darryl Stingley in a 1978 pre-season
game. The hit paralyzed Stingley from the chest down. Tatum was
also noted for his involvement in the Immaculate Reception play during a
playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Tatum was born in Cherryville, North Carolina
and grew up in Passaic, New Jersey, where he had little interest in
playing sports in his early years. Tatum did not start playing
football until he entered his sophomore year in Passaic
High School, where he played as a running back, fullback and
defensive back and was selected first-team All-State. He was
selected a high school All-American as a high school senior. In
1999, the Newark Star-Ledger named Tatum as one of New
Jersey's top ten defensive players of the century.
Tatum visited a number of universities before starting his
collegiate career on the Ohio State University Buckeyes
team. Head coach Woody Hayes recruited
Tatum as a running
back. However, assistant coach Lou Holtz convinced Hayes to switch Tatum to
defensive back during Tatum's freshman season. Tatum
was used by the Buckeyes to cover the opposing team's best wide receiver but
he also was used occasionally as a linebacker due to the nature of his hits and
his innate ability to bring down even the biggest fullback or tight end.
Tatum was a first-team All-Big Ten in 1968, 1969 and 1970. In 1969 and
1970 he was a unanimous All American. In 1970 he was selected as
the National Defensive Player of the Year and was among the top
vote getters for the Heisman Trophy, which is given to the
nation's best college football player. Tatum
helped lead the Buckeyes to a 27-2 record in his three seasons as a
starter, with two national championship appearances and one
national championship win in 1968, Tatum's first season with the
Tatum was inducted into the Ohio State Varsity O Hall
of Fame in 1981 and
into the College Football Hall of
2005. In 2001,
Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel instituted the "Jack Tatum Hit
of the Week Award," given to the player who had the most impressive
defensive hit of the game.
|"I like to believe that my best hits
border on felonious assault."
Tatum was drafted by the Oakland Raiders as the 19th pick in the
first round of the 1971 NFL Draft to replace former Oakland
Grayson, who retired after the 1970 season. A few weeks later,
Tatum signed a three year, six figure contract with a fifty
thousand dollar-signing bonus. Tatum
was nicknamed "The Assassin", a name he embraced
and relished. The origin of the nickname is unclear. Some
references seem to indicate that he was already known as "the
Assassin" as a hard hitting safety at Ohio State. Others
indicate that the name came from the hit that paralyzed New
England Patriots wide receiver Darryl Stingley (
discussed later in this article). Tatum played his first
professional game against the Baltimore Colts,
where he tackled and knocked out the Colts' former tight ends John Mackey and Tom Mitchell. Soon
after the game, sportswriters started to compare him to former Chicago Bears linebacker Dick Butkus because of
his hard-hitting skills and
he became the starting free safety in his rookie year.
Tatum was involved in one of the most famous plays in National
Football League History, the Immaculate Reception, during a 1972 playoff game
against the Pittsburgh Steelers. With 22
seconds left in the game, Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw threw a pass to running
back John "Frenchy"
Fuqua. Tatum collided with Fuqua, knocking the ball into the
air. The ball fell into Steelers running back Franco Harris's
arms, who ran it down 42 yards for the game winning touchdown.
In one of the most lasting images from Super Bowl XI, Tatum knocked the helmet
off Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Sammy White. This is
often regarded as one of the biggest hits in Super Bowl
his most infamous hit came in a 1978 preseason game against the New
England Patriots. Tatum hit Patriots wide receiver Darryl Stingley
as he was leaping for a pass. This badly damaged Stingley's spinal cord and left
him paralyzed from the chest down, for the rest of his life.
According to Stingley in his 1983 autobiography, "Happy To Be
Alive," Tatum never made any effort to apologize or to see him
after the incident. . The two did not
speak from that day until Stingley's death on April 5, 2007. Tatum
has never apologized for the hit.
"It could have happened to anybody," said Tatum. "People are
always saying, 'He didn't apologize.' I don't think I did anything
wrong that I need to apologize for. It was a clean hit."
Tatum was traded to the Houston Oilers for running back Kenny King and two draft
choices in the 1980 NFL Draft. He
finished his pro career with them in 1980, when he played all sixteen games
that season, and recorded a career-high seven interceptions to
finish with a career total of 37, which he returned for 736 yards.
He also recovered nine fumbles in his career, returning them for
164 yards. Tatum also holds the record for the longest fumble
return in NFL history. In a 1972 game against the Green Bay
Packers, he returned a fumble 104 yards for a touchdown which
could have been called back because of an officiating error. The
record has since been tied by Aeneas Williams.
After being released by the Oilers after the 1980 season, Tatum
retired. After his playing career ended, Tatum became a land
developer and moved into the real-estate business becoming a
part-owner of a restaurant in Pittsburg, California. Tatum also married, and had
three children. He wrote three best-selling books, They Call Me
Assassin in 1980, They Still Call Me Assassin in
1989, and Final Confessions of NFL Assassin Jack Tatum in
Tatum would eventually face his own disability as all five toes
on his left foot were amputated in 2003 due to a staph infection caused by diabetes Tatum
also suffered from an arterial blockage that almost cost him his
right leg. He currently uses a prosthetic leg to walk around. Tatum
currently works in increasing awareness of diabetes. To facilitate
this goal, he created the Ohio-based Jack Tatum Fund for Youthful
Diabetes, which finances diabetes research. He also serves as
co-chair of an annual fundraiser for the Central Ohio Diabetes
Association, Celebrities for Diabetes, which is held during the
week of The Ohio State-Michigan game in Columbus, Ohio.
Prior to Super
Bowl XL, ESPN's Andrea Kremer
conducted an interview with Tatum confirming that he still has few
regrets about the way he played.
The man, the legend, the
"Assassin" Retrieved April 1, 2006.
Whatever happened to Jack
Tatum Retrieved April 1, 2006.
Sports Illustrated poll
Retrieved April 2, 2006.
Top 10 Defensive Players
Retrieved April 2, 2006.
Collegefootballnews top 100
college players of all time, number 51 Jack Tatum Retrieved
April 1, 2006.
Tatum, Jack Final Confessions of NFL Assassin: Coal Valley Il,
Quality Sports Publications, pg 9.
Men's Varsity "O" Hall of
2004 College Football Hall of
Fame Division I-A Class Announced Retrieved April 2, 2006
Tatum, pg 9
Scout.com: CFN's Tuesday Question - All-Time
CNNSI.com - SI Online - Dr. Z
- Inside Football - SI's Dr. Z: Gifted but conflicted - Friday
August 16, 2002 05:42 PM
Tatum, pg 11
The physics of the matter say
the Immaculate Reception ball hit Tatum by Byron Spice, Pittsburgh
Post-Gazette Retrieved April 1, 2006.
Top Super Bowl Plays -
Defense/Special Teams Retrieved April 2, 2006.
The Healer: No String Of
Bitterness by Ron Burges Boston Globe Retrieved April 1,
Jason Cole (2007-04-06). "Sorrow not guilt".
Yahoo! Sports. http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/news?slug=jc-tatum040607&prov=yhoo&type=lgns. Retrieved
Oilers Waive Jack Tatum, from
the May 29, 1981 issue of the New York Times, Retrieved April
Retrieved April 2, 2006.
Fumbles, Retrieved April 1, 2006
Catching Up with Jack
Tatum Retrieved April 10, 2007.
Highlights and lowlights of a
Super Bowl bonanza, Retrieved April 2, 2006.