Even in death, Patriots
quadraplegic bore no
grudge for injury

Apr 10, 2007 4:41 AM

It’s ironic that Darryl Stingley died during Holy Week, with CNN asking questions like "What Is a Christian?" and "What Would Jesus Have Done?"

It’s ironic because all CNN really had to do was tell the story of Darryl Stingley, and they would have answered both questions in one interview.

If you weren’t around watching pro football 29 years ago, you might not have known who Darryl Stingley was, and what he came to represent.

He was a pro football player, who started out hon the rough, tough west side of Chicago, played for Marshall High School, a Chicago power in those days, went on to star at Purdue, and wound up as a wide receiver with the New England Patriots.

Wound up is the right word, for Stingley’s hugely promising career — a major new contract was to have been announced by the Patriots that week — came to a crashing halt on the night of August 12, 1978 at the Oakland Coliseum. It is difficult to believe that it is almost 30 years since Jack Tatum of the Oakland Raiders, one of the most feared defensive backs in football, hit Stingley head on with a helmet smash while Stingley was in midair reaching for a pass overthrown by quarterback Steve Grogan. The hit broke Stingley’s neck and crushed his spinal cord, rendering him a quadraplegic for life. It also forced the National Football League to change its rules on spearing helmet hits.

Tatum has been defended by many, most recently the Raiders coach in 1978, now turned wealthy sportscaster, John Madden. Madden said Tatum played the game only one way, aggressively.

Well, yeah, John.

But! according to Ron Borges of the Boston Globe, Tatum and his defensive teammates in the Raiders’ secondary, cornerback George Atkinson and safety Skip Thomas, known as Dr. Death, played a weekly pool, the winner being the first member of the secondary to knock a receiver cold.

It is 29 years since that tragic night, and Jack Tatum never visited Darryl Stingley, never called him, and more importantly never apologized, to the day last week when Stingley died. On hearing of Stingley’s death, the Raiders issued a statement for Tatum, saying he was "deeply saddened by his death" and that "my thoughts and prayers go out to his family." A little late, Jack.

A few years ago, Ron Borges wrote that representatives of Tatum suggested a televised reconciliation between Stingley and Tatum on Fox network, and Stingley agreed, until the late Will McDonough of the Globe told him that Tatum was coming out with a new book. His first book was titled, They Call Me Assassin, and his reps wanted to use the interview to boost sales. That ended the reconciliation, and the sales pitch, quickly.

The story does not end with Stingley’s death.

Four years ago Stingley learned that Tatum had lost his left leg to diabetes, and could lose the right as well. Stingley’s reactions were chronicled by Ron Borges in a long, touching feature in the Boston Globe at the time titled "The Healer: No Strings of Bitterness."

Borges wrote, "The human thing was to say what some of Stingley’s friends and former teammates said: ”˜What goes around comes around.’ The human thing was to say, ”˜He finally got what he deserved.’

"What Stingley said was different, because he’s different.

"”˜You can’t, as a human being, feel happy about something like that happening to another human being. Maybe the natural reaction is to think he got what was coming to him, but I don’t accept human nature as our real nature. Human nature teaches us to hate. God teaches us to love.’"

Then Stingley told about his own father, who also had diabetes and lost a leg. "My thoughts quickly left me and Tatum and went to my father and how I missed him. I wondered if he was proud of me. I wondered if he thought I’d handled the things I had to handle well. Was I right in his eyes? That’s where my thoughts went to."

Stingley said Tatum now had a cross to bear, and he hoped maybe it would open Tatum’s heart.

Not on your life, Darryl, and unfortunately, not on your death, either.