If today’s National Football League rules were applied in the late 1970s, Darryl Stingley might still be alive today. He almost certainly wouldn’t have been left paralyzed by the vicious hit by Oakland Raiders safety Jack Tatum. Tatum leveled the former New England Patriots wide receiver, who would’ve been termed today as a defenseless receiver, during a preseason game in 1978. The hit left Stingley a quadriplegic. Stingley, who died in 2007, never held any animosity toward Tatum after what many have felt was a dirty hit.
Who was Darryl Stingley?
Darryl Stingley was a standout running back in high school but was later converted to wide receiver when he attended Purdue University. He spent three seasons at Purdue before the New England Patriots selected him in the first round of the 1973 NFL draft. He was selected with the 19th overall pick.
Stingley, the grandfather of LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., spent five seasons in the NFL, all with the Patriots. He had his most productive year during the 1977 season when he caught 39 passes for 657 yards. He also caught five touchdown passes. Stingley also rushed for 33 yards and a touchdown that season.
Stingley, who also returned punts and kickoffs, finished with 14 receiving touchdowns in his five seasons with the Patriots. His career was cut short when he was injured during a preseason game in 1978. During that game, Oakland Raiders safety Jack Tatum put a hit on him that left him paralyzed.
Jack Tatum puts a hit on Darryl Stingley
In a preseason game between the New England Patriots and the Oakland Raiders on Aug. 12, 1978, Darryl Stingley’s life changed forever. The New England Patriots wide receiver left his feet and extended his arms for the ball as Raiders safety Jack Tatum delivered what the New York Times described as “an intentionally violent hit” that left Stingley a quadriplegic. Tatum was not penalized on the play.
Tatum was known for his aggressive play. In his autobiography, They Call Me Assassin, Tatum wrote, “I like to believe that my best hits border on felonious assault.” According to Stingley in the New York Times article, Tatum never reached out to check in on Stingley after the incident, while Stingley constantly relived that moment day in and day out.
“I have relived that moment over and over again,” Stingley said in 1998. “I was 26 years old at the time and I remember thinking, What’s going to happen to me? If I live, what am I going to be like? And then there were all those whys, whys, whys.” In 1983, Stingley said he had never heard from Tatum. “He has not contacted me, not even a mystery postcard. The bottom line is that I feel sorry for him,” he said. “He’s a man that can’t bend to really be a man. Sitting in my wheelchair, I’m taller than he is.”
Stingley said he forgave Tatum
Some have said Jack Tatum‘s hit on Darryl Stingley was flagrant, while some said it was just a hard-nosed football play. Either way, Stingley said he forgave him. “One person deliberately hurt another person,” Stingley told The Boston Globe in 2003. “That’s the way the story was written by some. I respect anybody’s point of view on it. I’m not in denial about it. There was an incident between us and he did write a book and in it he said he went out there to hurt and maim people. He said that and it hurt to read it.”
In 2003, Stingley had the perfect chance to claim some form of redemption when it was noted that Tatum, who died in 2010, lost his left leg due to complications to diabetes and was in danger of losing his right one. Stingley took the high road. “You can’t, as a human being, feel happy about something like that happening to another human being,” Stingley said. “Maybe the natural reaction is to think he got what was coming to him but I don’t accept human nature as our real nature. Human nature teaches us to hate. God teaches us to love.”
Stingley’s strong faith helped forgive the man who, intentionally or not, changed his life. “For me to go on and adapt to a new way of life, I had to forgive him. I couldn’t be productive if my mind was clouded by revenge or animosity. Early on there were a lot of questions in my mind. But I have such a strong faith in God. It’s hard to articulate. It was a test of my faith. In my heart and in my mind I forgave Jack Tatum a long time ago.”