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July 29, 2010 6:08 AM

Taking T.O. to Properly Appreciate Jack Tatum

ato.jpgWe'll get only a moment to see the sad, poetic symmetry of Jack Tatum quietly passing away, and Terrell Owens making another thundering return to the NFL within hours of each other this week.

One represented what the NFL used to be; the other is a pathetic poster child for what it is becoming.
Tatum let his play on the field do the talking; Owens keeps the neighbors up at night babbling in his sleep.
Tatum, the assassin; Owens the ass ...

I admittedly was a Jack Tatum fan when there were few -- outside of the nutty Raiders Nation, that is.
Pound for pound, Tatum is the hardest hitter I have ever seen.

To this day I remember the lick he gave a running back (can't remember who, or what team) when he was playing safety at Ohio State in 1970. The back hit the hole and Tatum hit him. The back actually went head over heels ... and backwards. I have never seen anybody ejected from the line of scrimmage like that before or since.

Tatum spent the next decade or so with the rough-and-tumble Raiders greeting ball carriers in all sorts of rude and unsavory ways. He was a regular Pro-Bowler, a Super Bowl winner, and should be a Hall-of-Famer.

But he will be forever tied to Darryl Stingley, whom he left a quadriplegic after a crushing hit along the sidelines of a preseason game in 1978. It would become known as the hit and it was punishing and horrible.

It was also completely legal, but that never seemed to matter much, because it was what did or did not happen after the hit that left an ugly stain on the safety's otherwise black-and-blue career.

It was said by many, and became some kind of an unverified truth, that he never apologized or showed remorse for both ending Stingley's career, and the kind of life the wide receiver even remotely imagined living.

Over the years we quietly learned that Tatum actually went to the hospital after the game to see Stingley but was told only family could visit the wide receiver. In fact, he tried many times to see Stingley in later years but was rebuffed.

Then we learned that the classy Stingley, who died three years ago, never harbored any ill will toward Tatum, and, in fact, forgave him.

For his part, Tatum always said there was nothing to be forgiven for. It was a clean hit.
Cold? Maybe. But sometimes the facts are served that way. Tatum would say he felt sorry for what happened, but not guilty.

After his career ended, Tatum wrote a few books and we caught glimpses of him on the occasional NFL Films clip walloping anything on the field attached to a football. He also suffered with diabetes and lost a leg to the disease. He created The Jack Tatum Fund for Youthful Diabetes to help raise awareness and finance diabetes research. But it's the hit most will remember him for.

Me? I'll remember him as the guy who played a brutal game to its terrifying limits. I wish I had taken the time to learn more about him off the field, and before he passed away.

You get the feeling, though, that Owens will never shut up, nor go away. He's selfish, arrogant, and vastly overrates himself. He's all me, and no us. He's killed more quarterbacks than Deacon Jones. I know more about him on and off the field than is possibly fair.

Just when you think we're finally done with this circus act, he returns to be coddled and condemned by the carnival barkers at places like ESPN. Train wrecks are more subtle.

So while we are remembering and still discovering what made Jack Tatum what he was, it would be a great service to the future of the game, if we come to grips with what Terrell Owens is.

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