*Ferocious NFL safety Jack Tatum, the three-time Pro Bowler with the Oakland Raiders who once said “I like to believe that my best hits border on felonious assault,” died Tuesday of a heart attack, according to reports. He was 61.

Known as “The Assassin,” the Ohio State alum had battled diabetes and other health problems for years, according to his college teammate John Hicks.

Despite three Pro Bowl appearances and a Super Bowl victory with the Raiders, Tatum will perhaps be best remembered as the Raider off whom the ball bounced to Franco Harris of the Pittsburgh Steelers for the “Immacualte Reception” [see clip below] and as the player who delivered a hit to Darryl Stingley during a meaningless 1978 exhibition game that left the New England Patriots player a quadriplegic for life.

The hit led directly to the league’s emphasis on safety that continues today.

Even before the incident, Tatum was known for his vicious hits on a Raiders team – run by Al Davis and coached by John Madden – that thrived on its fearsome image.

A hit by the Raiders’ Jack Tatum paralyzed the Patriots’ Darryl Stingley.

Tatum grew up in Passaic, N.J. and had little interest in organized sports until high school. He grew to love football and was offered a scholarship to Ohio State under coach Woody Hayes.

Tatum was drafted in the first round by the Raiders in 1971. In nine seasons with the team, he started 106 of 120 games, had 30 interceptions and helped the Raiders win the 1976 Super Bowl. He played his final season with the Houston Oilers in 1980.