The Legend of Jack Tatum

Jack TatumJack Tatum Deserves a spot in Canton

This year’s 2015 Pro Football Hall of Fame class has already been announced with the committee deciding on Tim Brown, Junior Seau, Jerome Bettis, Charles Haley, Will Shields, Mick Tingelhoff, Ron Wolf and Bill Polian as being this year’s prestigious Pro Football Hall of Fame class. These much deserved players legacies will forever be enshrined in Canton, Ohio, along with the other NFL greats. However, at the conclusion of this year’s Pro Football Hall of Fame announcement, one NFL legend has yet to earn his much needed spot in Canton. His name is Jack Tatum. And for those of you who’ve never heard of him before, he was also called the Assassin because of his helmet shattering playing style.

John David “Jack” Tatum

Jack Tatum was born on November 18, 1948 in Cherryville, North Carolina and grew up in Passaic, New Jersey. During Tatum’s adolescent years, he expressed little interest in sports and did not begin playing football until his sophomore at Passaic High School, where he played defensive back, and rotated between fullback and running back. During Tatum’s senior year he was named high school All-American and received a lot of attention from a multitude of universities that wanted Tatum to play for them.

In 1968 Tatum was recruited by legendary Ohio State University Buckeyes head coach, Woody Hayes. Tatum was originally recruited as a running back; however, then assistant coach Lou Holtz noticed Tatum’s aggressive style of play and transitioned him to a starting defensive back for the Buckeyes. As a Buckeye, Tatum was known for his quickness and ability to nearly dismember opposing players with ferocious hits. Tatum was a first-team All-Big-10 in 1968, 1969 and 1970. Additionally, during Tatum’s final two seasons at Ohio State, he was unanimously selected as an All-American. In 1981 Tatum was also inducted into the Ohio State Varsity O Hall of Fame and in 2004 into the College Football Hall of Fame.

In 1971 Jack Tatum was drafted by the Oakland Raiders as the 19th overall pick in the first round of the 1971 NFL Draft. Tatum signed a three-year, six figure contract that included a $50,000 signing bonus. During Tatum’s first professional football game, he tackled Colts tight ends John Mackey and Tom Mitchell so hard that he literally knocked them out. Sports writers soon began to compare his intensity and hard hitting style to Chicago Bears Linebacker Dick Butkus.

Throughout Tatum’s ten year NFL career, he was voted to three consecutive Pro Bowls (1973-1975) and earned the name “The Assassin” for his hard hitting playing style. In 1974, Tatum ended the season with six interceptions and in Super Bowl XI, Tatum made what has been regarded as one of the biggest hits in Super Bowl history, when he nearly decapitated Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Sammy White.

Tatum was traded to the Houston Oilers and finished his final NFL season in Houston and recorded a career high seven interceptions. Tatum’s final NFL stats included a total of 37 interceptions with 736 return yards and nine fumble recoveries totaling 164 return yards. Tatum also broke an NFL record on September 24, 1972 against the Green Bay Packers when he scored a touchdown after he recovered a fumble and rushed for 104 yards into the end zone.

Tatum is most notably known for the tackle he made against New England Patriots wide receiver Darryle Stingley in a 1978 preseason game. Coined as “The Hit”, may be difficult to look at, but it was considered clean; however, Tatum received criticism for the hit, due to some feeling it was unnecessary and pointless during a preseason game. During that era of the NFL, players were allowed make helmet to helmet tackles. Even the Patriots head coach Chuck Fairbanks at the time, stated “there wasn’t anything at the time that was illegal about the play.” Tatum’s tackle caused Stingley to be paralyzed from the chest down.

Cause and effects after the Stingley Hit.

Many argue the hit on Stingley is the reason why Tatum has yet to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Many felt Tatum was never apologetic for the hit and that he should have been. Throughout the years, Tatum expressed remorse for causing Stingley to be paralyzed, but would never apologize for his aggressive game play.

On July 27, 2010 Jack Tatum died of a heart attack in Oakland, California. Prior to Tatum’s death, all five of his left toes were amputated in 2003, due to a staph infection caused by diabetes. Shortly after, Tatum suffered an arterial blockage that required his right leg to be amputated. Tatum’s kidney began to fail and he was on the waiting list for a kidney transplant at the time of his death. Upon his death, the Oakland Raiders released a statement that, “Jack was the standard bearer and an inspiration for the position of safety throughout college and professional football.”


Jack Tatum played during an era in the NFL when players like Jack Lambert kicked opponents and Dick Butkus punched opponents during pile ups. An era were toughness was considered righteousness and pile driving receivers head first to the ground was considered a well-executed tackle. Tatum was ranked by NFL Films as being the sixth hardest hitter in NFL history. The majority of the top ten hardest hitters on the same NFL Films list are presently in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Some may have disproved of Tatum’s style of play, but he exemplified toughness, skill and a hard hitting style that many current and future Pro Football Hall of Famers sought inspiration from. Even Pro Football Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott stated that Tatum was one of his “football heroes,” but despite that, will his legacy ever be permanently sealed in the halls of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Jack Tatum deserves a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He earned it.


8 thoughts on “The Legend of Jack Tatum

  1. Jack Tatum in my eyes will always be the ultimate Raider, I’ve been campaigning for his enshrinement into the HOF for years. My understanding of what gets a player into the HALL are stats, character, and leaving and indelible mark on the game, Jack left all those things and more.

    1. Haywood,
      I absolutely agree with your comment. Jack definitely left a mark in the league. Many former and current NFL players studied his playing style and modeled their play and preparation after him.

  2. I saw Jack Tatum play in his senior year as a Passaic High Indian. He was a man amongst boys- Probably the greatest footballer from PHS including one Ironhead ! A defensive HOFamer if there ever was one! Then again Jerry Kramer is not in the HOF so whats new in Canton.

  3. It’s the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of stats! Jack Tatum was the best at his position for almost a decade. You cannot tell the story of the NFL without Jack Tatum.

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