This file photo shows Oakland Raider's Jack Tatum (32) hitting...

This file photo shows Oakland Raider's Jack Tatum (32) hitting New England Patriots receiver Darryl Stingley (84) during an NFL preseason football game in Oakland, Calif. (Aug. 12, 1978) Credit: AP

Three-time Pro Bowl safety Jack Tatum, who has nicknamed "The Assassin" due to his bone-crushing hits, died of a heart attack in an Oakland hospital earlier today. Tatum, who lost his left leg due to complications from the diabetes he had the last several years, was 61.

Tatum played nine seasons for the Raiders and finished up his career in 1980 with the Oilers. He won Super Bowl XI with Oakland.

Tatum is best known for the hit that paralyzed Patriots receiver Darryl Stingley in a preseason game (pictured above) on Aug. 12, 1978. The blow severed Stingley's fourth and fifth vertebrae and left him paralyzed from the neck down.

Stingley, who died in 2007, never met Tatum and Tatum never apologized for the hit, which was not flagged or punished afterward by the NFL. Yet Tatum's friend and teammate at Ohio State, John Hicks, said the hit had an effect on him too.

"It was tough on him too," Hicks told the AP. "He wasn't the same person after that. For years he was almost a recluse."

Tatum allegedly attempted to visit Stingley in the Oakland hospital he was staying in, but was turned away by Stingley's family.

Stingley's family was also upset that Tatum, in his 1980 book "They Call Me Assassin" was unapologetic for his head-hunting ways.

"I was paid to hit, the harder the better," he wrote in another book, "Final Book of an NFL Assassin," in 1996. "And I hit, and I knocked people down and knocked people out. ...I understand why Darryl is considered the victim. But I'll never understand why some people look at me as the villian."

Tatum, who grew up in Passaic, N.J., and starred at Ohio State before being selected in the first round of the 1971 draft by the Raiders, was also a central figure in the Immaculate Reception, as he jarred the ball loose from Frenchy Fuqua to allow Franco Harris to make a shoestring grab and race 42 yards for the winning touchdown.  

His legacy also lives on at Ohio State, where his teams went 27-2 in his three years as a starter, won two Big Ten titles and the 1968 national championship. Every week after Ohio State plays, the coaching staff awards the "Jack Tatum hit of the week" Buckeye for the hardest tackle or a block.

Said current Ohio State coach Jim Tressel: "We have lost one of our great Buckeyes. When you think of Ohio State defense, the first name that comes to mind is Jack Tatum."

In his pro career, Tatum had 37 interceptions (with a career high of seven his last year) and 10 fumble recoveries, including one for a TD. But he made a name for himself, albeit sometimes a bad one, with his head-hunting tackles.

Below is a compilation of Tatum's most vicious hits, save the one on Stingley. The Stingley hit can (sort of) be seen here

More football news