The Original Bounty Hunter: Case of Head Coach Sean Payton
by FeSaad Columnist Dean Nazaru McCray–
Effective the first of April 2012, the New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton began a one year suspension for a three year bounty system in place under his watch. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell imposed the unprecedented penalty on Wednesday March 21, 2012 after it was determined upon an exhaustive investigation that New Orleans Saints football players were given payout incentives for making “big hits” on the opposing team. Payton has since acknowledged his role in this bounty system and publicly apologized for his part in the scandal. In addition to the one year suspension levied upon Sean Payton, Gregg Williams, the New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator, was suspended indefinitely for his role in instituting the bounty program in 2009. Ironically, 2009 was Gregg William’s first year with the New Orleans Saints and the year that the New Orleans Saints won their only Super Bowl title.
According to the findings of the investigation, Gregg Williams not only initiated the program but actively maintained it throughout the 2010 and 2011 seasons. Curiously, this bounty system was left in place despite the fact that the NFL had information concerning its existence and had instructed the Saints to look into the allegations.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell also suspended the New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis for a total of eight games, suspended assistant head coach Joe Vitt for six games, fined the New Orleans Saints $500,000 and ruled that the New Orleans Saints must forfeit a second round draft choice each of the next two years.
Although the New Orleans Saints “bounty-gate” is unprecedented in the scale in which it has been uncovered and the enormity of the penalties that have been levied upon its personnel as well as the franchise itself, bounty hunting has been rumored to exist in the NFL for quite some time. That being said, in my opinion there is one name that stands out far above all others when it comes to the “pay for pain” arena: The Assassin!
On July 27, 2010 the great Jack Tatum had a massive heart attack and passed away in relative obscurity in Oakland California after a long battle with diabetes that resulted in the amputation of all five of the toes on his left foot. In addition, he was forced to wear a prosthetic device on his right leg during his twilight years due to an amputation he incurred as a result of an arterial blockage.
A former All-American defensive back, Jack Tatum played his collegiate football for Ohio State University from 1968 – 1971 and is unanimously regarded as the most ferocious tackler to ever play for the Buckeyes. Jack Tatum’s reputation for “gut-wrenching” tackles was so renowned that years later Ohio State’s head coach Jim Tressel instituted what is known to this day as the “Jack Tatum Hit of the Week Award” given to the defensive player with the most brutal tackle for that particular game. Tatum was named a Collegiate All-American in 1969 and 1970 and the Collegiate National Defensive Player of the Year in 1970. He was subsequently selected in the first round of the 1971 NFL draft with the 19th pick by the Oakland Raiders.
During Jack Tatum’s professional football career, his bone breaking exploits continued to the point that opposing team players cowered in fear at the very thought of entering into his domain fearing the potential for grave bodily harm which “The Assassin” could dish out.
After dozens of knock outs and opposing players being carted of the field, Jack Tatum walked away from the game without any regrets or apologies in 1980 with a career best seven interceptions for the Houston Oilers in his final season. He simply considered carnage to be a routine part of his job as exemplified by this famous quote: “I like to believe that my best hits bordered on felonious assault”.
Sadly, Jack Tatum is remembered most for the vicious but legal hit he placed upon the New England Patriots Darryl Stingley during a meaningless preseason game in 1978 that left him paralyzed from the chest down for the rest of his life.
In his autobiography entitled “Happy to be Alive”, Darryl Stingley expressed how he was bitter for many years with Tatum because he felt that he was unapologetic for the hit nor made any attempt to see him in the hospital. Although Tatum has stated publicly that he didn’t think he had done anything to apologize for and that it was a clean hit, he claimed that he did make an attempt to see Stingley in the hospital but was not allowed to do so by Stingley’s family.
After retirement, Jack Tatum would pen three best selling albeit controversial books entitled: They Call Me Assassin, They Still Call Me Assassin and Final Confessions of NFL Assassin Jack Tatum which were published in 1983, 1989 and 1996 respectively These three polarizing books gave the world a vivid insight into the world of NFL bounty hunting as seen through the exploits of this “gridiron terrorist”.
According to Tatum, it was a routine for George Atkinson and himself to place bets on who would injure the most people each week during the game. Apparently certain standards were in place as to the payout amount depending upon whether or not the victim in question was still conscious or needed to be taken off the field in a stretcher. Although Jack Tatum freely admits to betting on the amount of carnage he would administer each and every Sunday, many doubt any money actually exchanged hands. According to NFL Hall of Fame coach John Madden, who coached the Oakland Raiders during Jack Tatum’s reign of terror, “Jack was way too cheap to pay up on any bets he made with anyone”!
Looking back upon that era of NFL football, we find a time were tough guys roamed the field and any given play could be a players last. This was a time when defense dictated who would be the Super Bowl Champion. Minnesota had the “Purple People Eaters, Pittsburgh had the “Steel Curtain”, Dallas had the “Doomsday Defense”, Los Angeles had the “Fearsome Foursome”, Denver had the “Orange Crush”, etc. Jack Tatum was a product of this era. A man trained to do what he had to do on the field regardless of the physical toll his wrath wreaked on the opposition. He never apologized for what happened to Darryl Stingley probably because he considered what happened to merely be part of a violent game. If given an opportunity to go back in time to relive that moment, I am quite sure that Jack Tatum would be happy to do it all over again.
Maybe one day the NFL Hall of Fame Committee will awaken from their slumber, realize the greatness that number 32 was and allow him in but until that day arrives his legend will remain firmly embedded in my mind. I can still here that distinctive thud that would sound from my television speakers every time Jack Tatum would crush an opposing receiver that dared run a slant route through his turf. I remember you quite well Mr. “Assassin”! Rest in peace.
Dean Nazaru McCray
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