Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Assassin has died...

Requiem for Jack Tatum... I knew him, Horatio.

I was never much of a book reader as a youth or an adult. I greatly prefer practical technical manuals which instruct me in the ways of doing things. Novels, Bios, inspirational, self-help: It's a bunch of rubbish from my perspective. I know people read for entertainment. I find that notion extremely strange. That ain't entertainment from my point of view. It just isn't fun.

With that said, I read "They Call me Assassin" when I was a 14 year old youth. This was right around the time it was published. This book was Jack Tatum's first autobiography, written around the time the Raiders traded him to the Oilers. It might have been a year old. I was settling into my course of becoming a nose tackle around that time, and I felt it would be informative to read books written by the great defenders of history. I also read books by Dick Butkus, and Mike Curtis.

He covered a lot of turf in this book, his childhood, his recruitment by the Ohio State Buckeyes (which included a free hooker--whom he did not know was a hooker), his career with the Raiders, and especially the Daryl Stingley incident. Most of the talk today focuses on the Tatum-Stingley incident.

I want to go on the record and say that the first time I saw that hit my first reaction was one of stunned amazement: "That's all...??? That was one of the most unremarkable, non-savage hits Tatum ever dished out." I continue to think the same thing to this day. No number of replays have convinced me of anything else. It was non-remarkable hit. I have seen a hundred hits harder than that in past 2 years.

I want to go on the record and declare that I am a Raider-Hater. Whilst I have a great admiration for Tatum, I hate the Raiders. I have no tribal obligation to make this declaration. I simply believe it is true.

How then did it break Stingley's neck and leave him a quadriplegic? You got me there, buddy. The answer lies in the fluke happen-chance realm of quantum mechanics. God does play dice, contrary to what Einstein said. Tatum just happened to hit Stingley from exactly the right angle, at exactly the right velocity to create the precise impact force necessary to produce the injury.

If you think he calculated that out on a slide-rule and then executed the hit perfectly, you are crazy. I mean certifiably crazy. Tatum swooped in from center field and gave Stingley a light pop to knock him over. By fluke, it was just exactly the precise hit... I don't think for one second that Tatum meant to injury him. He would have hit him drastically harder if he had been up for that mission. Ask Sammy White about that kind of hit. Just watch the footage of Super Bowl XI.

Tatum didn't react much to the Stingley hit because he didn't believe Stingley was injured. Shaken perhaps, injured no. I have to say, without a-posteriori knowledge that Stingley's neck had been broken, I never would have suspected he was injured either. Quite a bit of "They Call me Assassin" deals with Tatum's psychological shock over the fact that this hit produced an injury. Believe me, I understand that. I too, am shocked that that hit produced an injury.

At least one odious blog declares Tatum has finally gone to Hell for that hit. I think that's rubbish. Tatum never intended to harm Stingley with that hit, and I know for a fact that he struggled with the guilt over that hit. A better analysis says something like Tatum killed Stingley and we made him do it. Football is a brutal sport. Just about all ex-players die as a result of it later on. When the alternative is to die because of something else a little later, we accept these consequences, although we frequently have regrets.

Incidentally, everyone has regrets in life. As the great existentialist philosopher Søren Aabye Kierkegaard said: Do this and you will regret it. Don't do this and you will regret it. Do that and you will regret it. Don't do that, and you will regret it.

Flukes happen. This was a fluke. It was a terrible fluke. It was a bad, awful, dreadful fuke, but it was a fluke.

I want to go on the record and declare that Tatum was the absolute hardest hitter in NFL history. Number 2 isn't all that close. No, Ronnie Lott did not hit as hard as Tatum. He was much less savage a hitter. He gave a good pop, but that is all. I would be willing to allow that Lott was a better overall-defender, but he was not a harder hitter.

Only Dick Butkus can rank close to Tatum in terms of hitting ferocity, but because of his slower foot speed, he could not muster the velocity necessary to produce those kinds of violent impacts. Velocity is king. Double the velocity and you quadruple the impact force. I don't doubt that Tatum hit players at twice the speed Butkus did. I don't doubt this produced superior force. Butkus was more massive, and that helps his cause, but the much greater speed of Tatum produced more devastating hits.

Watching a man get hit by Tatum was like watching a human body experience the impact of 1 ounce shotgun slug. The shock went through their bodies, and they dropped dead. Just check out the Earl Campbell hit. That is a legendary moment in NFL history.

Tatum suffered terrible heath problems later in life, which is a study in Football Karma. There are natural cause-and-effect consequences that follow after being the hardest hitter in NFL history. He battled diabetes for years. Portions of both his legs were amputated as a result of circulatory problems stemming from diabetes. I am sure he had plenty of arthritis and orthopedic problems to go with it. Ultimately, a heart attack on Tuesday took his life.

For many of us, death comes as friend. It delivers us from a lot of pain and suffering. It was like this for my grandmother, who died after a painful battle with cancer. I am sure it was like this for Tatum also. I am fairly sure it will be like that for me.

Understand that Jack suffers pain no more. The same is true for Daryl Stingley. I hope the two reconcile somewhere else and at some other time.