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Jack Tatum
Jersey #(s)
31, 32
Born November 18, 1948 (1948-11-18) (age 61)
Cherryville, North Carolina
Career information
Year(s) 19711980
NFL Draft 1971 / Round: 1 / Pick: 19
College Ohio State
Professional teams
Career stats
Interceptions 37
INT yards 736
Touchdowns 1
Stats at
Career highlights and awards

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."[1] 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.[2] In a recent poll by Sports Illustrated on the century's best defensive backs, Tatum finished with eight percent of the vote.[3] 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.


College career

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.[4]

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.[5] 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.[6] 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 team.

Tatum was inducted into the Ohio State Varsity O Hall of Fame in 1981[7] and into the College Football Hall of Fame[8] in 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.

NFL career

"I like to believe that my best hits border on felonious assault."
Jack Tatum

Tatum was drafted by the Oakland Raiders as the 19th pick in the first round of the 1971 NFL Draft to replace former Oakland safety, Dave 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.[9] 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.[10] Others indicate that the name came from the hit that paralyzed New England Patriots wide receiver Darryl Stingley[11] ( 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[12] 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.[13]

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 history.[14] But 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. [1]. The two did not speak from that day until Stingley's death on April 5, 2007.[15] Tatum has never apologized for the hit.[16] "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.[17] 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.[18] The record has since been tied by Aeneas Williams.[19]

After football

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 1996.

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[20] 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.[21]

Notes and references

  1. ^ The man, the legend, the "Assassin" Retrieved April 1, 2006.
  2. ^ Whatever happened to Jack Tatum Retrieved April 1, 2006.
  3. ^ Sports Illustrated poll Retrieved April 2, 2006.
  4. ^ Top 10 Defensive Players Retrieved April 2, 2006.
  5. ^ Collegefootballnews top 100 college players of all time, number 51 Jack Tatum Retrieved April 1, 2006.
  6. ^ Tatum, Jack Final Confessions of NFL Assassin: Coal Valley Il, Quality Sports Publications, pg 9.
  7. ^ Men's Varsity "O" Hall of Fame
  8. ^ 2004 College Football Hall of Fame Division I-A Class Announced Retrieved April 2, 2006
  9. ^ Tatum, pg 9
  10. ^ CFN's Tuesday Question - All-Time Defense
  11. ^ - SI Online - Dr. Z - Inside Football - SI's Dr. Z: Gifted but conflicted - Friday August 16, 2002 05:42 PM
  12. ^ Tatum, pg 11
  13. ^ The physics of the matter say the Immaculate Reception ball hit Tatum by Byron Spice, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Retrieved April 1, 2006.
  14. ^ Top Super Bowl Plays - Defense/Special Teams Retrieved April 2, 2006.
  15. ^ The Healer: No String Of Bitterness by Ron Burges Boston Globe Retrieved April 1, 2006.
  16. ^ Jason Cole (2007-04-06). "Sorrow not guilt". Yahoo! Sports. Retrieved 2007-04-06.  
  17. ^ Oilers Waive Jack Tatum, from the May 29, 1981 issue of the New York Times, Retrieved April 2, 2006.
  18. ^ Lambeau's Lowlights Retrieved April 2, 2006.
  19. ^ Individual Records: Fumbles, Retrieved April 1, 2006
  20. ^ Catching Up with Jack Tatum Retrieved April 10, 2007.
  21. ^ Highlights and lowlights of a Super Bowl bonanza, Retrieved April 2, 2006.

External links



Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Jack Tatum (born November 18, 1948) A former National Football League defensive back, famous for his punishing playing style.


  • I was paid to be a warhead, and anyone who came near me should get knocked into Hell!
  • "I don't care who gets in my way--my mother, my grandmother, my daughter: I'll knock each and every one of them on their ass."
  • "Call me a queer. I'd rather hit than make love, money, or friends."
    • Final Confessions of NFL Assassin Jack Tatum by Jack Tatum with Bill Kushner
    • "It could have happened to anybody," said Tatum about the Darryl Stingly hit. "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."


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