Darryl Stingley was an American professional football player, whose career ended after a tragic hit on-field. Considered one of the worst hits in National Football League(NFL) history, Stingley sustained a major spinal cord injury. He went from being a young promising player to a man in a wheelchair in mere moments. However, he did not let his injury hold him back and left a lasting legacy.
Let us take a look at Darryl Stingley- Career| Hit| Legacy.
1) Born on September 18, 1951, Darryl Stingley was brought up on Chicago’s West Side. After a stellar career at John Marshall Highschool, Stingley went to Purdue University on a football scholarship. Here he established himself as a wide receiver under head coach Bob Demoss.
2) His talent was quickly recognised and four years later and just a few credits away from graduating he was selected by the Patriots in the first round of the 1973 NFL draft as the nineteenth overall. Additionally, he was the Patriots’ third first-rounder, behind John Hannah and Sam Cunningham.
3) He seemed to have all the tools he needed for a successful NFL career
Darryl Stingley was famous for his soft hands and deep-threat potential. Additionally, he had set a Boilermakers record of 18.2 yards per catch. He stood at a height of 6’0″ and weighed 194 pounds. Due to his strong work ethic and the nature of his play, he subsequently became a fan favourite as well. As a result, he was fondly given the moniker ‘the stinger’.
4) Additionally, he was popular among his teammates and was deemed the unofficial team barber as he was pretty handy with the scissors. Plus he had good vocals and enjoyed singing Stevie Wonder songs.
5) Over the next five seasons, Stingley would become one of the league’s top wide receivers, with thirty-nine catches and five touchdowns in 1977 alone.
6) In recognition of his terrific performance, the Patriots offered him a contract extension in the summer of 1978. According to his longtime agent Jack Sands this would have made him “one of the highest-paid receivers of the NFL”. Although the negotiations were over, the contract was yet to be signed. It was then that the Patriots went on a preseason tour of California.
7) Darryl Stingley- the tragic hit that ended his career
During the 1978 preseason game, the New England Patriots were up against the Oakland Raiders at the Oakland coliseum. On August 12, 1978, Darryl Stingley’s promising career came to a tragic end after receiving a brutal hit from Jack Tatum. Aptly dubbed as ‘the assassin’, Tatum was the Raiders safety and was a man well known for playing vicious football. As Stingley stretched for an errant pass, he and Tatum collided due to which Stingley’s helmet made contact with Tatum’s shoulder pad; this hit essentially broke two vertebrae in Stingley’s spine.
9) After the hit, Stingley dropped to the ground motionless. His roommate Pro Bowl tight end Russ Francis was the first to reach the body and everyone watching knew something was wrong. The paramedics then rushed in to take his unconscious body away.
10) This brutal hit did not receive any penalty as at the time it was assessed as completely legal. Defensive backs were free to initiate such kind of contact with a receiver. Hence after things on the field calmed down, the game resumed.
11) However, Darryl Stingley’s life was not the same again. He was paralysed from the neck down, and after years of therapy, he eventually regained movement in his right hand. However, he was rendered a quadriplegic for the rest of his life. He was only 26 at the time.
12) Postgame, Oakland coach John Madden immediately rushed to visit Stingley in the hospital and eventually became a regular visitor. He was devasted by what had happened and he and Stingley remained close friends for years.
13) Gene Upshaw, who was playing for the Raiders in that game, also befriended Stingley. Subsequently, he was instrumental in providing compensation for players who were disabled due to injuries sustained while playing professional football. Thanks to his efforts, Stingley was eventually awarded $48,000 annually.
14) The symbol of violence in football
Subsequently, this incident gained notoriety for being the symbol of violence in football. Many people were angered by Tatum’s actions but what made them criticize him, even more, was the fact that he didn’t visit Stingley in the hospital nor did he apologize for his actions. The public’s anger grew even more after Tatum publicised his 1980 autobiography ‘They Call Me Assassin’ where he stated that his “best hits border of felonious assaults”.
15) Darryl Stingley was plagued with anger, resentment and depression in the years following his injury. However, he subsequently overcame it and in his 1983 autobiography ‘Happy To Be Alive’, Stingley expressed his joy in friends and family, his spirituality, his forgiveness of Jack Tatum and his desire to give back to society.
16) Stingley said that “once he stopped asking the why-mes and the what-fors, he finally started living”. Stingley then resolved to finish his education and eventually got his degree from Purdue University. After completing his education, he started the Darryl Stingley Youth Foundation in his old neighbourhood on the west side of Chicago. He even got involved with football again and worked as a scouting consultant for the Patriots.
17) Tatum and Stingley never reconciled
Although Tatum reached out to Stingley several times, including while promoting his autobiography, Stingley refused to meet him because he was worried his actions were profit-motivated. As his agent Sands once said that “they had been contacted by people representing Jack but it always had a hidden agenda, if Tatum had contacted Darryl or him personally to talk, Darryl would have been more than willing to do it, but not for money or the media”. However, Darryl Stingley had forgiven Tatum a long time ago. This was even more evident when he received the news that Tatum lost a part of his leg due to diabetes. When he was asked to give his reaction he stated that “as a human, you cannot be happy that something like that has happened to another human being”.
18) Darryl Stingley passed away on April 5, 2007, at Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial Hospital. He was 55 years old at the time and the cause of death was determined as bronchial pneumonia, cardiac arteriosclerosis, spinal cord injury, and quadriplegia.