Jack Tatum Biography
Claim to Fame: NFL – Oakland Raiders, The Assassin
Date of Birth: November 18, 1948
Date of Death: July 27, 2010
Diabetes Type: Unknown
Quote: "I was paid to hit, the harder the better. And I hit, and I knocked people down and knocked people out."
Jack Tatum was born John David Tatum on November 18, 1948 in Cherryville, NC. He grew up in Passaic, New Jersey and did not start playing football until he entered his sophomore year of high school. There he played running back, fullback, and defensive back and was selected first-team All-State. As a high school senior, Tatum was selected as a high school All-American, and in 1999, he was named one of New Jersey’s top ten defensive players in the country.
Tatum was recruited as a running back for the Buckeyes team at Ohio State University and was switched to defensive back during his freshman season. He helped lead the Buckeyes to a 27-2 record in his three seasons as a starter, with one national championship win in 1968. In 1981, Tatum was inducted into the Ohio State Varsity O Hall of Fame, and in 2005, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Jim Tressel, Ohio State’s head coach in 2001, instituted the “Jack Tatum Hit of the Week Award,” given to the player who had the most impressive defensive hit of the game.
The Oakland Raiders drafted Tatum as the 19th pick in the first round of the 1971 NFl draft. He played a total of ten seasons as an American football defensive back for the Oakland Raiders and played his final season with the Houston Oilers in 1980. Called “The Assassin,” Tatum was voted to three Pro-Bowls (1973-1975) and was a member of one Super Bowl winning team in his nine years with the Raiders. He also holds the record for the longest fumble return in NFL history.
Known as one of the hardest hitters in the NFL, Tatum made a hit in a 1978 preseason game that left Patriots receiver Darryl Stingley paralyzed from the neck down. While Stingley was running a pass pattern, Tatum slammed into the receiver with his helmet, the blow severing Stingley’s fourth and fifth vertebrae. After the collision, Tatum tried to visit Stingley at an Oakland hospital but was turned away by Stingley’s family. Stingley passed away in 2007 having never met with or discussed the injury with Tatum, but Tatum’s friend and former Ohio State teammate John Hicks said that Tatum was haunted by the play, despite his failure to show remorse.
“He wasn’t the same person after that,” Hicks said. “For years he was almost a recluse.”
When Tatum’s playing career ended in 1980, he became a land developer and moved into the real estate business as a restaurant co-owner. After marrying and having three children with his wife, Tatum wrote three best-selling books: They Call Me Assasssin, They Still Call Me Assassin, and Final Confessions of NFL Assassin Jack Tatum.
Tatum had diabetes during his football career and had several toes amputated before his left leg was amputated below the knee in 2003 from a staff infection caused by the disease. He also suffered from arterial blockage that almost cost him his right leg. Tatum was then wheelchair bound, but also used a prosthetic leg to walk around. He has since created the Ohio-based Jack Tatum Fund for Youthful Diabetes to increase awareness of diabetes and finance diabetes research. He has raised more than $1.4 million.
Tatum died on July 27, 2010 at age 61 from a massive heart attack after battling diabetes and other health problems for many years.
"He was a good athlete and a good person," Hicks said. "He gave a lot back to the community, but he didn't want a lot said about it."
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