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Wed, 09.24.1941

John Mackey, a force for NFL players

John Mackey

*John Mackey was born on this date in 1941.  He was a Black football player.

John Mackey grew up in Roosevelt, Long Island, New York and played college football at Syracuse University. He played professionally for the Baltimore Colts (1963-1971) and the San Diego Chargers (1972).   In Super Bowl V played January 17, 1971, Mackey was a principal in one the most famous plays in NFL championship history.   He caught a pass from quarterback Johnny Unitas after the ball first bounced off the hands of receiver Eddie Hinton and then grazed the fingertips of Cowboys All-Pro defensive back Mel Renfro. The ball caromed further downfield into the waiting arms of Mackey, who ran untouched for a (then) Super Bowl-record 75-yard touchdown reception. Baltimore won the game, 16-13, on Jim O'Brien's 32-yard field goal with five seconds left.

Twice Mackey compiled season averages of more than 20 yards a catch, and his 10-year career average of 15.8 is considered remarkable for a tight end.  Mackey also displayed impressive speed for a tight end. During one season, the Colts decided to use him as a kick returner. He returned 9 kickoffs for 271 yards, 30.1 yards per return average.  Mackey proved to be an extremely durable player, missing only one game in his 10-season career.

After retirement, Mackey became the first president of the NFL Players Association. He helped organize a strike that earned players $11 million in pensions and much-needed benefits.  "He was the right man at the right time," said former teammate Ordell Braase. "We were a fractured group until John began putting permanence in [the union's] day-to-day operations. He hired administrators and a general counsel."  In 1992, Mackey became the second pure tight end to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Mike Ditka of the Bears had been the first one four years earlier.

It has been speculated that Mackey's actions as a high-ranking member of the players' union may have led to the delay in his election. In 1999, he was ranked number 48 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Football Players, the highest-ranking tight end. He was also named number 42 on NFL Network's list of the Top 100 Football Players in 2010.

In 2000, the Nassau County Sports Commission created the John Mackey Award, which annually honors the top Division 1-FBS collegiate Tight End. He was inducted into the Nassau County Sports Hall of Fame that same year.  In 2007, Syracuse University retired jersey #88 in Mackey's honor.  Mackey suffered from frontotemporal dementia, which made him particularly protective of personal possessions and suspicious of anyone who tried to control his actions. During the 2006 NFL season, Mackey was reported by family members to be confused and angered when seeing Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison wearing the same #88 jersey that Mackey used to wear.

At age 65 Mackey's dementia forced him to live in a full-time assisted living facility. NFL Players Association initially refused to pay a disability income due to there not being a proven link between brain injury and playing football.  The league and the NFL Players' Association have responded with the "88 plan" named after Mackey's number. It provides $88,000-a-year for nursing home care and up to $50,000 annually for adult day care. Mackey passed away July 6th, 2011 at the age of 69 of frontotemporal dementia.

Reference:
Los Angeles Times
202 West 1st Street
Los Angeles, California, 90012

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