I met Jack Tatum about five years ago. My friend, Wynn Silberman, was the agent for the retired Oakland Raiders great who died Tuesday at age 61 from complications due to diabetes.
Wynn and Jack were in Hawaii, and they joined my brother, Joe, and me for lunch. This was a huge thrill for Joe, because he has always been a Raiders fan.
Jack was friendly, polite and low-key during lunch, but often flashed a mischievous grin, and spoke proudly and with good humor about most of his NFL career. He even let Joe try on his Super Bowl ring.
We talked about all kinds of things, from Al Davis, John Madden and his Raiders teammates, to the possibility of his daughter coming to Hawaii to play college basketball, to the diabetes which had already caused amputation of one of his legs near the knee.
We also discussed how Wynn and Jack felt he was ambushed in a recent ESPN interview, where the reporter had indicated the focus would not be on the most infamous play of his career, but rather, on Tatum’s campaign to increase awareness about diabetes.
Even though I was a Patriots fan, I always admired Tatum’s aggressive style of play. I never “hated” Tatum for the hit on Patriots receiver Darryl Stingley that broke two vertabrae and paralyzed Stingley, who died in 2007 confined to a wheelchair.
We talked a bit about the unfortunate hit, with Jack displaying sympathy for Stingley; he was sorry for what happened, but not for the hit specifically, which was within NFL rules at the time. He had tried to visit Stingley in the hospital, but was turned away by his family.
After lunch I drove Wynn and Jack back to their hotel.
Jack gave me a gray diabetes awareness wristband. He also gave my brother and me memories that day of a friendly gentleman to go with those we already had from our childhood — those of one of the hardest hitters in the history of the game.
In addition to being his agent, Wynn became Jack’s good friend.
“Jack Tatum was such a complex man, I think the biggest tragedy of this man’s life rests in the distinct schism between the media’s portrayal of him and who he really was,” Wynn said. “He was a man of great depth, he loved his wife, his children and those close to him, he also loved the game but also knew the difference between the two. He will be dearly missed.”
-By Dave Reardon