The retired Hall of Famer died last night here in Baltimore. The Colts legend had been battling dementia for several years.
John Mackey grew up on Long Island and played for the Baltimore Colts from 1963 to 1971. He played for the San Diego Chargers in 1972.
NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith tweeted:
“John Mackey has inspired me and will continue to inspire our players. He will be missed but never forgotten.”
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello posted the following statement from commissioner Roger Goodell on Twitter:
“John Mackey was one of the great leaders in NFL history, on and off the field. He was a Hall of Fame player who redefined the tight end position. He was a courageous advocate for his fellow NFL players as head of the NFL Players Association. He worked closely with our office on many issues through the years, including serving as the first president of the NFL Youth Football Fund. He never stopped fighting the good fight. Our thoughts are with Sylvia and the Mackey family on the loss of our good friend.”
Enshrined in 1992, Mackey was the second player elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a tight end. He played in five Pro Bowls and was named All-NFL at his position three times.
Mackey played a key role in one of the most noted plays in NFL championship history. During Super Bowl V in 1971, a pass from legendary Colts QB Johnny Unitas bounced off the hands of receiver Eddie Hinton and then deflected off the fingertips of Dallas Cowboys All-Pro defensive back Mel Renfro.
The ball then whipped down the field and flew into the arms of Mackey, who ran untouched for a (then) Super Bowl-record, 75-yard touchdown reception.
Baltimore won by a score of 16-13 on Jim O’Brien‘s 32-yard field goal with five seconds left in the game.
Mackey’s legacy lives on with the presentation of the John Mackey award every year, which is given to the most outstanding tight end in college football.
After he retired, John Mackey suffered from dementia. The cost of his care well exceeded his pension of less than $2,500 a month.
This led the NFL and the players’ union to establish the “88 Plan”, which was named for his Colts uniform number, providing for nursing home care and adult day care for retired players suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
I had the pleasure of meeting John Mackey back in 2000 and, despite the fact that the effects of his dementia were clearly visible at the time, he was a genuinely good person. He let me have my picture taken with him and even let me try on a few of his NFL rings.
That photo is below along with a few more videos on John Mackey.