As part of an excellent obituary of former Raiders safety Jack Tatum, who died Tuesday of a heart attack while waiting for a kidney transplant, Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times obtained reaction from Tatum’s coach in Oakland, John Madden.
Madden told Farmer that the play for which Tatum was most notorious — the August 1978 hit on Patriots receiver Darryl Stingley that left him paralyzed — had a dramatic impact on the man who seemed to relish his reputation as a fierce hitter.
“It ate at him his whole life,” Madden said of Tatum.
Madden also said that Tatum didn’t want to be known as an assassin, but that the label was foisted upon him based on the title to Tatum’s autobiography. “After the book, people started to call him ‘The Assassin’ and say that
that was his nickname, which was never true, and that he called himself
an assassin, which he didn’t,” Madden told Farmer. “The story is that he’s a
high school All-American and he’s recruited to Ohio State as a hitter.
And he’s praised to be a hitter. And he plays at Ohio State and he’s an
All-American, because he’s a hitter. And he goes to the pros and is a
first-round draft choice because he’s a hitter.
“And then he hits a guy, the guy doesn’t get up, and they call him an
First of all, that brilliant-in-its-simplicity explanation from Madden makes me realize how much I miss hearing him on my television. Second, Tatum really shouldn’t be chastised for doing too effectively the job he was hired to do — especially since the NFL still loves to show us the kinds of hits that Tatum used to dish out, as long as the guy who absorbed the blow was able to get up afterward.