Thursday, July 07, 2011

John Mackey

John Mackey revolutionized the tight end position - his incomparable ability to catch passes off the line of scrimmage helped usher the NFL into its pass-happy modern era.

Mr. Mackey remained on the forefront of change in pro football after he retired. He pushed for better health care and championed the cause of former players, even as he battled dementia.

Mr. Mackey, the Hall of Famer for the Baltimore Colts, died Wednesday at age 69. Mr. Mackey's wife notified the Baltimore Ravens about her husband's death, team spokesman Chad Steele said Thursday.

"John Mackey was one of the great leaders in NFL history, on and off the field," Commissioner Roger Goodell said. "He was a Hall of Fame player who redefined the tight end position, and he was a courageous advocate for his fellow NFL players as head of the NFL Players Association."

Mr. Mackey played for the Colts from 1963-71, during a time when tight ends were viewed as additional offensive tackles. His breakaway speed, soft hands and bruising running made him difficult to cover, giving quarterback Johnny Unitas another top target. They combined on a 75-yard touchdown to help beat Dallas in the 1971 Super Bowl.

Mr. Mackey finished his career with 331 catches for 5,236 yards and 38 TDs. His efforts after his playing days were just as important as his performance on the field.

An NFL labor agreement ratified in 2006 includes the "88 Plan," named for Mr. Mackey's uniform number. The plan provides up to $88,000 a year for nursing care or day care for former players with dementia or Alzheimer's disease, or $50,000 for home care.

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I remember John Mackey as the tight end on the Johnny Unitas-led Baltimore Colts when I used to play them in Strat-O-Matic football. Memorable for his highlight videos breaking tackles after the catch. Precursor to such tight ends as Ray Chester and Charlie Sanders. Not to mention the Antonio Gates' of today.

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