Hall Of Fame TE John Mackey Dies At 69


By Joe Platania

On Oct. 20, 2002, the former Baltimore Colts that are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame were placed into the Ravens Ring of Honor at M&T Bank Stadium.

During that ceremony, tight end John Mackey provided Charm City fans with one final, poignant memory of his 10-year pro career.

When his name was announced, Mackey took the football that was in his hand and, in street clothes, took off in a full sprint toward the east end zone to the cheers of a sellout crowd. It turned out to be Mackey’s last appearance in front of the Baltimore fans who got to witness a big, fast, tough tight end who helped re-define the position.

It was announced Thursday morning that the New York-born Mackey passed away from complications resulting from dementia at the age of 69.

Mackey was a second-round pick of the Colts from Syracuse University and was named to the All-Pro team for three-straight years (1966-68) and to five Pro Bowls, the first after his 1963 rookie campaign.

“John set the standard by which tight ends are measured on the field,” Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said, “and he will be sorely missed not only by his family, but also by the entire Baltimore community.”

Mackey’s 75-yard deflected touchdown catch in Super Bowl V against the Dallas Cowboys in Miami’s Orange Bowl was the longest in Super Bowl history at the time and helped Baltimore claim its first-ever Vince Lombardi Trophy.

During his Colts career, Mackey gathered in 331 passes for 5,236 yards and 38 touchdowns. But as solid a tight end as Mackey was, it was his penchant for the spectacular that fans remember most.

In a blowout win against the Detroit Lions at Memorial Stadium in the mid-’60s, Mackey took a John Unitas pass in the left flat and ran through the entire Lions defense on his way to a touchdown. He was also fast enough to have been used as a return specialist in his first year.

In 1966 alone, he scored six touchdowns of 50 or more yards in length.

As the Colts’ franchise deteriorated during the early ’70s, Mackey was released and was signed by the San Diego Chargers in 1972, one year before that team would acquire Unitas in a trade.

Even though Mackey was not the first tight end inducted into the Hall of Fame — Chicago’s Mike Ditka copped that honor in 1988, four years before Mackey was enshrined — the Colts legend was named the best tight end in the game’s history on the NFL Network’s “Top 10” show, a list that included former Cleveland tight end and current Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome at No. 5.

“I am mourning the loss of John Mackey,” Newsome said, “and my deepest condolences go out to his wife Sylvia and the Mackey family. John revolutionized the tight end position during his Hall of Fame career, and he laid the foundation on and off the field for modern NFL players.”

Mackey is also a past president of the National Football League Players Association who led the first-ever players’ strike in 1970. Later, his battle against dementia inspired the formation of the “88 Plan” — named for his jersey number — which provides assistance for former players dealing with dementia- and Alzheimer’s-related issues.

“I was fortunate to get to know John and Sylvia personally,” Bisciotti said, “and I was struck by her love and loyalty throughout the difficult times of his illness.”

Posted July 7, 2011


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