Few have a more unique perspective of former Oakland Raiders safety Jack Tatum than Mike Haynes.
Haynes began his Hall of Fame football career with the New England Patriots from 1976-82, and the cornerback was a teammate and close friend of former Pats wide receiver Darryl Stingley, who was paralyzed by a vicious hit from Tatum during a preseason game in 1978 — 32 years ago Thursday. Stingley died in 2007 due to complications from quadriplegia.
Haynes, a cornerback, later played for the Los Angeles Raiders from 1983-89. Though Haynes was never a teammate of Tatum's, Haynes did get to know him a little bit. Haynes was conflicted Wednesday when asked if he had any thoughts about Tatum, who died last month.
"A lot of New England fans are not thinking probably very highly or fondly of Jack Tatum, but in some ways, it may be a little unfair," Haynes said in a phone conversation. "I totally understand how they feel, but they also have to understand, in that era, there were a lot of guys that played with the intent to hurt someone. That one incident may be one that changed football. I can tell you that hit impacted a lot of defensive players because all of us were trying to make hits when the [receiver] was in the air. We knew that he couldn’t catch the ball. We were trying to send a message, 'Hey, next time, we're going to be there, so you want to think twice about it.' But I don’t think anyone ever really would have thought that we could have that kind of impact on someone."
The Patriots and Raiders had a very intense rivalry during Haynes' playing career, so it was surprising to see Haynes play for both teams. He said he had a substantial internal conflict when it came to joining the Raiders.
"I got to know Jack a little bit when I joined the Raiders, and it was one of the toughest things for me to talk about," Haynes said. "It was also one of the toughest things for me to justify even becoming a Raider. I think them being in Los Angeles made it easier for me because it's like, 'Well, that was the Oakland Raiders. This is the Los Angeles Raiders,' and I'm from Los Angeles so I'm going home. But if they were in Oakland, I don’t know if I would have wanted to join the Raiders because I was so impacted by that incident and Darryl was such a close friend. It's a tough thing for a lot of football players to talk about, especially defensive players."
Moving past that, Haynes commended NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for his strides to make the game safer.
"The game is a lot safer now, and you don’t see guys trying to make hits like that anymore," Haynes said. "The commissioner has done just a fantastic job of making the game safer. You can keep going back, head slaps, all those things were legal [in Haynes' era]. But it's become safer and safer, and kudos to the football operations department and the commissioner for working really hard to try to make it even safer. I don’t think we're there yet. I think we can still get safer with better equipment and things like that. some of the new things in terms of how much hitting goes on on the field, what to do if a player is concussed, or if a player has a severe injury, how you're not leaving it up to the player to make that decision to go back in. of course a player is going to say, 'Yeah, I'm fine. I'm going back in.' We know now that is not the right decision, and the league is taking steps to make sure that things that happened in the past won't happen in the future."