Jack Tatum died at 61. A villain, an All-Pro, and an amputee. Most kids mimicked the end zone dancers, the White Shoes Johnsons, or the quarterbacks that got them there. (Homer Simpson: "Johnny Unitas—now there's a haircut you can set your watch to!") Yet my brother identified with this defensive safety who never apologized for paralyzing another player, once described as Genghis Khan with an afro. "A good collider in a game of collisions."
My brother wore a Raiders jersey bearing Tatum's name—then a new service offered by Sears-Roebuck, which at the time felt like the greatest invention since HBO. He once told me that Jack Tatum's uncle was bagging groceries at the A&P on Providence Road. I didn't believe him and biked over to find the Good Collider's uncle standing at the end of the checkout conveyor, with "Tatum" namegunned to his red apron.
I don't remember much about the exchange, other than asking if his nephew was a nice guy and could I have an autograph?
My brother and I took the game seriously. We spent Sunday afternoons beating the church out of each other, acting out goal line stands on the vinyl couch in the den. We made faces to our own dun-dun versions of the NFL Films symphony. Slow-motion was required for grit and exaggerated scrunch, yet it robbed my brother of the velocity needed to convince the effect. Occasionally, he sped up the action to ensure my face arrived into the crook of his arm on time.
Jack Tatum called this technique The Hook, a form of clothes-lining that once got him a free trans-continental flight to New York for a disciplinary meeting with NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle. (The return flight was empty, which led Tatum to believe Rozelle had programmed the plane to crash.) He learned The Hook watching Dick "Nightrain" Lane.
We collected football cards and used my dad's .38 to shoot up players we didn't like. (Some lucked out and got tombstones.) Once when I was playing one-on-none football with myself in the backyard, my brother and his buddy Vinnie Vickers started popping me with a Daisy Air Rifle from a tree house in the woods. Mistaking BBs for bee stings, I thought nothing of the welts on my leg. (Years later, Vickers would shrug a helpless apology to my mom: "Mrs. Tompkins—I didn't think I was actually gonna hit him!")
My mother wasn't really into it. During Super Bowl X, we fled the house so my brother could be alone with Cowboys and Steelers. The outcome was not good. I remember calling from my grandparents to check in. An impressive stream of cuss and on-field damnation poured through the phone, followed by the sound of the TV tray, clattering across the floor.
My brother's high school football career was hampered by injuries. His coach, Bob Wheeler, called him Pains (his real name is Aiken). I learned this while arm-wrestling Coach Wheeler for a box of his own cigars. I was in 4th
Grade. During PE, Wheeler would blow the whistle and say, "That's illegal
use of the illegal use." Or he'd just call us a bunch of yuh-huhs. Another time he took the class out behind the gym for a firing squad exercise. He lined us up against the wall, machine-gunned his hands and blew us away.
after Pains sent him burning down the sidewalk
on a fly pattern. It was a clean hit. Fuller, a Dolphins fan,
wailed home with a new dent in his head.
The lamppost was never the same. It would
suffer random blackouts, or just stand by the driveway in a daze, blinking.
Winn's dad, Ed Fuller, saw this one night while out walking his schnauzer. Next morning, he told my mom that I was trying
to signal the Martians again.