Jack Tatum, who passed away Tuesday, was a heck of a football player. Too bad he's known more as the guy who paralyzed Darryl Stingley.
Tatum was a nasty, mean safety for the Oakland Raiders, a man who hit anything that moved. He intimidated receivers with his big shots, plus he was a good tackler in the hole. I loved watching him play.
But in the summer of 1978, in a meaningless preseason game, his life changed. A hit that some felt wasn't necessary in a game that meant nothing -- I agree -- put Stingley in a wheelchair for the rest of his life before he passed away in 2007.
It also cast a nasty shadow over Tatum.
He was the bad ass who became the poster child for over-the-top violence in the NFL. There were stories that the NFL was too violent, that Stingley's plight might be the undoing of the league's growing popularity.
If Tatum played today, he would have been forced to adjust. Those hits that made him famous now get huge fines. Suspensions come as well. The hit on Minnesota Vikings receiver Sammy White in the Super Bowl knocked White's helmet off with a helmet-to-helmet blow. That's illegal now. But the fans, and those who market big-hit videos, would have loved him.
With the way the game has changed, Tatum might have even been a linebacker now. The big-hitting safety that hits like a linebacker is no more. The back two are now speed, cover-the-field players. Tatum ran well, but at 200 pounds he was considered a powerfully built safety. Add 20 pounds and move him to the weak-side linebacker might have been his path.
That's for debate. His talent isn't. But one hit makes most out there forget that. It didn't help that Tatum never really showed remorse for the hit.
Two men went to the field that summer day wiith little in common, other than a profession and the fact they both played in the Big Ten in college. One hit linked them for eternity, a hit that ended a career and another that earned one man a label forever.
Those two never did get together to talk about the hit. Tatum tried, but was said to have been denied the chance by the Stingley family.
Let's hope they can finally have that talk now with The Man above mediating.
Tatum had to live with guilt, even if he didn't admit it. How could he not?
That hit also tarnished the reputation of a good football player.