Ed Driscoll

Another Football Great Passes Away

The day after the death of Grambling coach Eddie Robinson made the news, AP reports that former New England Patriots wide receiver Darryl Stingley, paralyzed since the Oakland Raiders’ Jack Tatum pummeled him druing a meaningless exhibition game in August of 1978, passed away today at age 55:

Stingley was pronounced dead at Northwestern Memorial Hospital after he was found unresponsive in his Chicago home, according to Tony Brucci, an investigator with the Cook County medical examiner’s office.

The cause of death was not immediately available. An autopsy was scheduled.

Stingley, a star receiver with the New England Patriots, was left a quadriplegic after he was hit from behind by Oakland’s Jack Tatum while trying to catch a pass.

The hit on Aug. 12, 1978 broke Stingley’s neck, and he spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair. Stingley regained limited movement in his right arm and operated his electric wheelchair on his own.

Stingley’s son Derek, on his way to Chicago, said he didn’t want to talk about his father until he had time to be with the rest of his family.

Tatum’s hit on Stingley ignited debates about the violence of the game and made Tatum, who had a reputation as one of the game’s fiercest defenders, a subject of controversy.

The two players never reconciled. In 1996, they were supposed to meet for a TV appearance, but Stingley called it off after being told it was to publicize Tatum’s book: “Final Confessions of NFL Assassin Jack Tatum.”

Darryl Stingley was born and raised in Chicago. A star running back at John Marshall High School, he attended Purdue on a football scholarship. In 1973, he was a first-round draft pick of the Patriots.

Stingley’s hit also significantly changed how injured players are treated on the sidelines. The story as I recall it is that an overzealous trainer or paramedic ripped Stingley’s helmet off as he was lying there, which may have caused further spinal injuries. Today, if a player is so badly injured that he’s removed from the field on a stretcher atop a golf cart, very often you’ll see his helmet still on, and occasionally simply the steel facemask “cage” removed or flipped up via its soft plastic quick-release clips, which can be cut with a sharp knife.

The AP article also omits this passage from the obit on the Pats’ official site:

But just as it seemed Stingley was about to hit his prime, Tatum delivered the blow that Patriots fans will never forget, and one that most will never forgive. Tatum made no secret of his desire to not just hit people but to hurt them. He said so in his book,