The Tragic Death of Oakland Raiders Great and Hard-Hitting Safety Jack Tatum

During the 1970s, the Oakland Raiders were one of the most physical teams in the league. When opponents played the Raiders, they knew they were in for a physical battle. Jack Tatum played for the Raiders from 1970 to 1979, and he was one of the top players on the Raiders’ defense.

During his time with the Raiders, he developed a reputation for being one of the league’s hardest-hitting players. In 2010, the Raiders lost an all-time great when Tatum passed away.

Jack Tatum starred in college at Ohio State

RELATED: The NFL’s Hardest Hitters of All Time

Tatum was a late bloomer in football. He did not begin playing until his sophomore year of high school. Tatum attended Passaic High School in New Jersey, where he became a high school All-American his senior year. After his high school career, he decided to attend Ohio State University. Tatum was recruited as a running back but switched to defensive back when he got to Ohio State.

He had an impressive college career at Ohio State. As a freshman, he was a first-team All-Big Ten selection and was a part of the Ohio State team that won the national championship. Tatum played a prominent role in the Ohio State’s defense while he was there. During his final two seasons at Ohio State, he was a unanimous All-American selection.

He finished his college career winning two national championships, and in 1981, he was inducted into the Ohio State Varsity O Hall of Fame. Tatum was also inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2004. 

Jack Tatum became a standout player in the NFL

The Raiders drafted Tatum with the 19th overall pick in the 1971 NFL draft. During his rookie year, he became the starting free safety and immediately made his presence known on the field. In his first game against the Baltimore Colts, he had two hard-hitting tackles and knocked out Colts tight ends John Mackey and Tom Mitchell. He was known throughout the league as a hard-hitting safety.

In 1974, he was a part of the Raiders team that won the Super Bowl as they defeated the Minnesota Vikings 32-14. Tatum had six interceptions during the game and tackled Vikings wide receiver Sammy White where he knocked his helmet off. There was an incident during Tatum’s career that would follow him for the rest of his life.

During an exhibition game against the New England Patriots, there was a collision between Patriots wide receiver Darryl Stingley and Tatum. While Stingley was trying to catch a pass, he lowered his helmet to protect himself and ended up hitting Tatum’s shoulder pad. The incident left Stingley with incomplete quadriplegia for the rest of his life. There were a lot of conversations about the incident. The New York Times described the incident as “an intentionally violent hit.” Tatum was not penalized on the play, and he never apologized after the hit. The two were supposed to meet during a television interview, but that never happened, and they never spoke to each other after that.

Many thought that Tatum was too violent on the field, but he had a lot of success during his career. He spent the majority of his career with the Raiders and played his final NFL season with the Houston Oilers. 

Jack Tatum’s tragic death

Tatum finished his career with 37 interceptions, and he was a three-time Pro Bowl selection and a two-time second-team All-Pro selection. After he retired from the NFL, he worked in the Raiders organization and after that worked in the real estate business. He also wrote three best-selling books: They Call Me Assassin (1980); They Still Call Me Assassin (1989); and Final Confessions of NFL Assassin Jack Tatum (1996). 

Tatum faced health challenges as he got older. In 2003, all five toes on his left foot were amputated due to a staph infection caused by diabetes. The illness would later cause him to lose the entire leg below his knee. In 2010, Tatum died after suffering a heart attack. He was 61. When he passed away, the Raiders released a statement saying, “Jack was the standard bearer and an inspiration for the position of safety throughout college and professional football.” Tatum left his impact in the NFL after he played, and he is considered one of the greatest players to play for the Raiders.