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Sports Then and Now

John Mackey Was Leader On and Off the Field

Posted on July 07, 2011 by Dean Hybl

John Mackey was the first tight end capable of providing a deep receiving threat.

At a time when the current NFL players are battling with the league for a fair share of billions of dollars of revenue, we have learned of the death of one of the players who cleared the path for the benefits the players today enjoy.

Hall of Fame tight end John Mackey, who served as president of the NFL Players Association following the AFL-NFL merger, passed away Wednesday at the age of 69.

The second tight end inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Mackey was a key target for quarterbacks Johnny Unitas and Earl Morrall and helped the Colts to five playoff appearances and victory in Super Bowl V.

After playing collegiately at Syracuse, Mackey was a second round draft pick of the Baltimore Colts and earned Pro Bowl honors as a rookie in 1963 by catching 35 passes for 726 yards and seven touchdowns.

Before Mackey, tight ends were typically known as blockers first and then primarily as possession receivers. However, the 6-foot-2, 225 pounder had surprising speed for his size and served as a deep target.

In 1965 he caught 40 passes for 814 yards (20.4 ypc) and seven touchdowns. The following season he had 50 receptions and a career-high 829 receiving yards.

Mackey earned first team All-Pro honors from 1966 through 1968. During the 1968 campaign the Colts went 13-1 and reached Super Bowl III.

Two years later, Mackey helped the Colts defeat the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl V as he turned a deflected pass into a 75-yard touchdown reception.

The Colts traded Mackey to the San Diego Chargers following the 1971 season and he retired after the 1972 campaign.

He finished his career with 331 receptions for 5,236 yards (15.8 ypc) and 38 touchdowns. After being a finalist four times, he was finally inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1992.

While serving as president of the NFL Players Association in 1970, Mackey organized a players’ strike that resulted in $11 million in additional pension and benefits for players.

He also filed and won an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL to eliminate the so-called “Rozelle Rule,” which mandated equal compensation for teams that lost free agents and had the effect of limiting free-agent signings. The ruling eventually helped the players’ union achieve full free agency.

In recent years, Mackey suffered from dementia and was in a nursing home. The cost of care well exceeded his monthly pension of $2,500 and his plight eventually led the NFL Players’ Association to create the “88 Plan” to provide nursing home care and adult care for former NFL players suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

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