Revolutionary tight end, Super Bowl champion, and the very first NFL Players Association president. Yet, have you ever heard of the legend that is John Mackey?
John Mackey was drafted in the 2nd round of the 1963 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Colts. Mackey quickly became one of the most feared offensive players in the NFL. Up to that point in NFL history, tight ends had been used primarily as blockers. It was a bonus if they could catch, but being able to block was the skill that teams looked for. However, the NFL had never seen a specimen like Mackey.
Mackey became the first real vertical threat at tight end. Defenses had no answers for him. Teams had no defenders that could cover Mackey. When Mackey had the ball in his hands, good luck bringing him down. He has been called one of the most punishing runners of all time. He would run through you and then outrun everyone else. Mackey showed his athletic prowess off against the Lions during a play that many have called the greatest play of all time.
In 1966, Mackey fully cemented himself as a tight end threat that the NFL had never seen before. He caught 50 passes for 829 yards and 9 touchdowns. Six of his touchdowns that year were for 50+ yards. These stats for a tight end were unheard of in this era of NFL history.
Super Bowl V
John Mackey only played in one Super Bowl during his career, Super Bowl V. It is often called one of the worst Super Bowls of all time, but Mackey was involved in the most exciting plays of the day that also gave the Colts their first touchdown and got them back into the game. His 75 yard touchdown catch set a Super Bowl record for longest reception.
San Diego Chargers
Following the 1971 Super Bowl season, Mackey left the Colts and went to San Diego to play for the Chargers. This was the twilight of Mackey’s historic career. He recorded 11 receptions for 110 yards as a Charger. Due to an injury, Mackey missed the final game of the year, marking the first time in his illustrious career that he missed a game.
Post Playing Career
Mackey became the very first president of the NFL Player’s Association following the NFL-AFL merger in 1970. He led the charge for higher player pensions, insurance benefits, and a player’s ability to act in free agency. Instead of just sitting back and trying to keep everyone calm, Mackey fought for the players and created change that altered the course of NFL history.
Years after his retirement, Mackey began to suffer from Dementia. His NFL pension was not enough to cover the cost of his needs, which resulted with his wife bringing it to the attention of the NFL. They responded with the “88 plan,” named after Mackey’s jersey number. This plan was designed to give retired players $88,000 per year to help with nursing care. Even after Mackey retired, he caused more changes in the NFL that would go on to help hundreds of players.
Forgotten NFL Legend
With today’s offensive explosion, it is easier to look at players from decades ago and say their stats are subpar. This leads to revolutionary type players being forgotten. At face value, Mackey’s 331 catches for 5,236 yards, and 38 touchdowns might not look like much, but there was a time when these stats were at the top of the NFL record books. Mackey was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1992. He was voted as the #42 player on NFL Network’s Top 100 Players of All-Time list.
John Mackey is a legend in every sense of the word. He set a new standard for tight end. What he did off the field might be more important that what he did on it, however. He helped players get more rights and benefits that showed that the players were people and not just commodities to be used and discarded. We cannot forget this legend and the massive impacts he had on and off the field.
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