Jack Tatum, who died from a heart attack today at 61, was one of the greatest defensive backs in Ohio State history. Tatum was a feared hitter, like Kurt Coleman, the Eagles' seventh-round rookie, also from Ohio State.
But Coleman and Tatum, later a star with the Oakland Raiders, shared a tragic tie, as well, though Coleman said today that they never discussed Tatum's 1978 hit on New England's Darryl Stingley that left Stingley paralyzed, or the 2006 spring practice collision between Coleman and teammate Tyson Gentry that left Gentry unable to move.
"We did have some in-depth talks. We never talked about it specifically," Coleman said after today's training camp afternoon session for rookies. "Every time we talked and we got in a conversation of football, he always would just say, 'hit 'em in the mouth.' I think, playing this game of football, there are going to be some tragic things happen, and you've got to know that you're not doing it intentionally, and that's a part of the game. That's the game of football, and there was a time when I didn't want to play football because of it ... I learned from it, I knew it wasn't my fault, and I thank God every moment that I'm here and I'm able to play this game."
Gentry, a walk-on punter and wideout, fell awkwardly after being tackled by Coleman. Gentry helped Coleman overcome his remorse and revulsion over the accident.
"I'm just blessed that he's still alive. He's doing a lot of great things for his life," said Coleman, who said he speaks with Gentry frequently. Tatum and Stingley never spoke from the time of their tragic encounter until Stingley's death in 2007.
Coleman said he cried when Gentry told him being paralyzed had made him a better person.
"He said 'it's not your fault. It could have happened to anybody,' " Coleman recalled. "He's changed a lot of people's lives through his story and testimonies, and I think I've been able to share my story. It's been able to bring a lot of hope to people in the same situation."
Tatum had suffered from complications to diabetes, and lost a leg to amputation. Coleman said he couldn't picture Tatum, still vigorous when they last spoke, felled by heart trouble.