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Rob Lytle, Jack Tatum: Life Lived in Seconds


Rob Lytle and Jack Tatum’s mid-air collision in the third quarter of the 1978 AFC Championship led to new rules and technology for NFL referees. Lytle died from a heart attack Saturday in Ohio, four months after Tatum died from the same cause in California. Many of the most memorable moments of both men’s lives were played out in seconds, offering lessons for life on and off the field.

by Seth Eisenberg

Rob Lytle
Rob Lytle

Millions watched as Rob Lytle and Jack Tatum collided in mid-air on the two-yard line during the third quarter of the 1978 New Year’s Day Denver Broncos-Oakland Raiders AFC Championship game. Less than 33 years later, both men died of heart attacks within months of each other. Lytle, 56, died November 20 in Ohio. Tatum, 61, died in his beloved Oakland less than four months earlier.

Rob Lytle was an All-American running back at Michigan who helped lead Denver to the 1978 Super Bowl during his rookie season with the Broncos. While Lytle was admired by football fans in Michigan and Denver, where he played seven seasons in the NFL, he and Tatum caught the attention of nationwide fans and officials after a key play in the Broncos-Raiders AFC Championship game.

The famous Denver-Oakland match-up took place before the time of NFL challenges, when television audiences caught replays unavailable to referees on the field and influenced one of the league’s biggest rivalries that’s lasted more than 30 years.

Jack Tatum
Jack Tatum

With Denver in the red zone, Lytle took a handoff and headed for the end zone, where the referee signaled a touchdown, giving the Broncos a 14-3 lead. Television replays clearly showed that Jack Tatum, the Oakland safety considered one of the hardest hitters in the game, knocked the ball from Lytle’s hands in a mid-air collision before Lytle scored the touchdown. Without the benefit of the television replay, the referees stuck to their call on the field, helping lead Denver to a 20-17 victory and advancing the team to the Super Bowl against Dallas.

It’s not just NFL superstars who often discover their lives become about key moments played out in seconds or less. In fact, the events that ultimately decide the course of each of our lives may be determined in the same amount of time.

Unlike the 1978 Denver-Oakland championship, today’s major sports contests often give officials a second chance to make sure they make the right call at critical moments that could decide the outcome of a game.

While technology hasn’t come far enough yet to bring those same benefits to couples and families facing their own contests, emotional intelligence, also known as EQ, delivers similar benefits to many. Building emotional intelligence is one of the most valuable benefits participants take away from research-validated relationship and marriage education classes.

EQ begins with understanding emotions in ourselves and others, being able to hear, experience, and consider the views of others with empathy, and making decisions from a commitment to the values and goals that are most important to you.

For couples finding themselves approaching the equivalent of a mid-air collision, learning to slow things down, accurately hear each other, and address differences as members of the same team may be the difference between a moment that shatters cherished dreams or instead gives you the chance for greater understanding and closeness.

Rob Lytle and Jack Tatum’s lives on the field were often about what happened in seconds or less. Remembering that lesson for lives off the field too can bring more happiness and fulfillment to us all.

Seth Eisenberg is President of the nonprofit PAIRS Foundation in Weston, Florida, an industry leader in relationship and marriage education.

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