The Assassin, R.I.P.

The best college football team I ever saw in person was the 1968 Ohio State Buckeyes.

The best player on that team died today a scarred pariah because he once did what defensive football players are supposed to do better than anybody ever. Darryl Stingley paid the price for Tatum’s talent. So hard was he hit, Stingley never used his hands or arms again.

Jack Tatum, born in North Carolina, schooled in New Jersey, was a forerunner of the future of football.

Fast. Strong. Hard hitting. Mean. He gave no quarter.

Word is Ohio State recruited him as a running back but a then unknown assistant to fabled Woody Hayes named Lou Holtz convinced his boss to play the guy from Passaic on D.

In Tatum’s first Big Ten game as a collegian, the Buckeyes played Purdue at home in the horseshoe on the banks of the Olentangy. The Boilermakers were ranked #1, were favored to go to the Rose Bowl and win the mythical national championship. They came to Columbus 3-0 with wins over UVa and Northwestern and Notre Dame in South Bend.

Tatum wasn’t the only young un on his squad. The QB was a wet behind the ears Rex Kern. They were not alone.

The Boilermakers featured wideout Leroy Keyes, an All-American and later runner up in the Heisman voting.

Ohio State was 2-0 with Ws over Southern Methodist and Oregon.

Kern flawlessly directed Hayes’ three yards and a cloud of dust offense for 13 points.

Purdue didn’t score.

Jack Tatum took the vaunted Keyes totally out of the game.

Ohio State won them all that year. They blasted rival Michigan 50-14, and bested Southern Cal on New Year’s Day in Pasadena.

Tatum’s infamy grew exponentially as a member of the outlaw Oakland Raiders. Silver and black was a perfect color scheme for Tatum.

In the days to come, you will read about Tatum’s specialty. ESPN will trot out videos of Jack’s Greatest Hits. We will see the one on Stingley way too often. We will debate whether Tatum was remorseful enough after he paralyzed an opponent.

What I know is this. We are at a juncture in the evolution of America’s favorite game when the powers that be are beginning to realize and acknowledge what a decimating endeavor it is for those who participate. Football players are bigger, stronger, faster and more willing to froth at the mouth than ever. Shortened, painful lives ensue.

With Jack Tatum’s passing I’m reminded that on October 12, 1968, I saw the future of football.

– Seedy K

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