The assassin is still a force with the Oakland Raiders. On game
days he carefully sizes up his next victim before delivering a
cruel blow, only nowadays it's Raiders players who absorb Jack
Tatum's hits. Tatum, who earned the sobriquet Assassin for his
devastation of receivers as a free safety in Oakland from 1971
to '79, has spent the past four seasons working for the NFL's
Uniform Code Enforcement police. As the league's watchdog on the
Raiders, Tatum fines Oakland players who violate the NFL's
strict uniform policy. "I go to the games and inspect the
players on the field," says Tatum, 50. "I'll usually just say,
'You gotta tuck that shirt in,' or something simple like that.
Most guys don't give me a hassle."
Which is wise, considering Tatum's history of leveling people.
His most notorious hit, in a 1978 preseason game, left New
England Patriots receiver Darryl Stingley a quadriplegic, and in
Super Bowl XI, Tatum rendered wideout Sammy White of the
Minnesota Vikings helmetless. Tatum bragged about his
ruthlessness (although he later expressed remorse about injuring
Stingley) in his controversial 1980 book, They Call Me Assassin.
While the book outraged fans and players alike with statements
such as, "My best hits border on felonious assault," Tatum's
only regret about his nasty rep is that it overshadowed his
coverage ability. "That always gets lost, which bothers me
because it's something I took pride in," says Tatum, who twice
tied for or led Oakland in interceptions and had 37 for his
At Ohio State from 1968 to '70, Tatum was a multidimensional
force at roverback, a position that saw him constantly switching
roles from safety to linebacker to cornerback. His ability to
excel at all three positions and his aggressiveness made him one
of the most feared players in the nation. As one reporter noted,
the Buckeyes had several big hitters, "but Tatum seems to make
his victims bounce higher."
After spending a final season with the Houston Oilers in 1980,
Tatum returned to Oakland, where he lives with his wife, Denise,
and spends his days caring for their daughter, Jestynn, 12, and
son, Lewis, 10. He's written two more football books, dabbles in
real estate and is part owner of O.T.'s Barbecue Sauce in
Pittsburg, Calif. Tatum, who describes himself as a "family
man," hopes his outlaw image will eventually disappear. "There's
a bad perception of what kind of a person I really am," he says,
"but people who really know me understand who I am." Who are
you? "Let's just leave it at that," Tatum says. No problem,
Jack. No problem at all.
August 29, 1999
Tatum regrets that his nasty reputation overshadowed his superb