Jack Tatum and the Brewers

A very sad story broke last week — no, I’m not talking about the Brewers stretch of four losses in five games, we’ll get to that later — I’m talking about the death of former NFL wide receiver Darryl Stingley.

Despite being a first-round pick out of Purdue University by the New England Patriots in 1973, Darryl Stingley is not as well known today for his football career as he is for the gruesome way that his career ended: On August 12, 1978, he was the victim of a then-legal football hit that broke his fourth and fifth vertebrae and left him a quadriplegic. The hit was administered by Jack Tatum of the Oakland Raiders. During a preseason game.

In August of 1978, I was on the cusp of manhood. Well, not really . . . I was almost seven years old. But I was just at the age where I was getting into football and specifically football trading cards. And while I don’t recall ever actually seeing the Tatum hit that paralyzed Stingley — you can see it now on YouTube — I distinctly remember knowing of the incident and being freaked out by the football cards I had of both players. I was too much of a packrat and a collector to throw them away or sell them, but I recall feeling like I had the cards of a murderer and his victim, which for me didn’t sit easily alongside my cards of favorite players like Terry Bradshaw and Chuck Foreman.

Jack Tatum is not a murderer, obviously (he wasn’t even penalized, much less fined or suspended, for the then-legal hit), but he hasn’t exactly been too likable in the twenty years since. After being barred from Stingley’s hospital room by Stingley’s family, the two men never spoke and Tatum never apologized. In fact, Tatum has been shockingly brazen in his lack of remorse, saying “I don’t think I did anything wrong that I need to apologize for,” and cashing in on his image as a “dangerous” football player with the publication of three books — all written after the hit on Stingley — with the insensitive titles of They Call Me Assassin, They Still Call Me Assassin, and Final Confessions of NFL Assassin Jack Tatum.

Some would say Jack Tatum received his payback in 2003 when his left leg was amputated below the knee due to a staph infection caused by diabetes. To his credit, Tatum has recently worked to increase diabetes awareness, even creating the Jack Tatum Fund for Youthful Diabetes. But he remains steadfastly unremorseful about how he robbed Stingley of his career and his mobility. No wonder I’m still creeped out by him — something in there isn’t human.

Well, I’m feeling pretty smug about my preseason prognosis for the Milwaukee Brewers, who as of this writing are 3-4 and stuck in a three-way tie for third place in the weak NL Central . I wrote here a couple of weeks ago that while the Brewers were the “sexy” pick by many to win their division, I thought that they didn’t have the talent nor experience to live up to the hype, and I picked them to finish fourth in the division. Of course I’m writing this with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek (mmm, leftover Easter Candy somehow got stuck in there) as not only is the season all of one week old, but they are only a game out of first place. But they’re only a game out of last place, too, and what was hoped to be the team’s strength — the starting rotation — is largely to blame. Milwaukee’s team ERA of 4.35 is tied for twelfth in the league, while their starters have given the team only two quality starts (defined as completing at least six innings and allowing no more than three earned runs), which is next to last in the league, ahead of only the hapless Washington Nationals.

I know it’s early. But I’m sensing less confidence around Brewer Nation as a feeling of “same old Brewers” starts to creep in and a feeling of “I told you so” creeps in to my head.

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