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Former Baltimore Colt and HOF Tight End John Mackey passes away
Pro Football Hall of Famer John Mackey, who helped revolutionize the position of tight end, died on Wednesday. He was 69.
Mackey, a former president of the NFL Players Association, played 10 seasons for the Baltimore Colts and San Diego Chargers, catching 331 passes for 5,236 yards and 38 touchdowns.
Enshrined in 1992, Mackey was the second player elected to the Hall of Fame as a tight end.
In a pair of Twitter entries, current NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith paid tribute to Mackey.
"John Mackey has inspired me and will continue to inspire our players. He will be missed but never forgotten" reads a post on Smith's Twitter page.
A previous post reads: "John Mackey is still a leader. As President of the NFLPA he led the fight for fairness with brilliance and ferocious drive."
In retirement, Mackey suffered from dementia, but the cost of his care well exceeded his pension of less than $2,500 a month. His plight eventually led the NFL and the players' union to establish the "88 Plan" -- named for his uniform number -- providing for nursing home care and adult day care for retired players suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's disease.
As the first president of the post-merger players' union, Mackey started fighting for improved salaries and benefits for players. In July, 1970, he organized a players' strike that resulted in $11 million in pensions and benefits. And in 1972 he filed an antitrust lawsuit which brought the players free agency, although that was later bargained away, according to The Sun.
"We were a fractured group until John began putting permanence in [the union's] day-to-day operations,' said teammate and former union president Ordell Braase, according to The Sun. "He had a vision for that job, which was more than just putting in time and keeping the natives calm. You don't get anything unless you really rattle the cage."
Drafted in 1963 from Syracuse, Mackey, at 6-foot-2 and 224 pounds, helped revolutionize the position of tight end by bringing the added dimension of speed, forcing defenses to account for him not only as a blocker but as a breakaway threat.
"Previous to John, tight ends were big strong guys like [Mike] Ditka and [Ron] Kramer who would block and catch short passes over the middle," former Colts coach and fellow Hall of Famer Don Shula said, according to The Baltimore Sun. "Mackey gave us a tight end who weighed 230, ran a 4.6 and could catch the bomb. It was a weapon other teams didn't have. "
If Mackey didn't run past defenders, he ran through them.
"Defensive backs fell off of him like gnats," said Baltimore Colts teammate Jerry Hill, according to The Sun. "John didn't have a fluid gait -- he looked like a plowhorse -- but you didn't want to touch him for fear of getting caught up in the wheels."
"Some times you had a sense that, given the option, John would rather run over you than outrun you," added former Colts teammate Bob Vogel, according to The Sun.
In 1966, six of Mackey's nine touchdown receptions came on plays of 50 yards or more. His speed led the Colts to use him as a kick returner in his rookie season.
He caught 35 passes for 726 yards and a career high 20.7-yard average as a rookie in 1963, when he was selected to the Pro Bowl.
Mackey also played a crucial role in the Colts winning Super Bowl V in 1971. His catch of a Johnny Unitas pass that had been deflected by two other players -- Colts receiver Eddie Hinton and Dallas Cowboys defender Mike Renfro -- went for 75 yards and a touchdown. The Colts won 16-13 on Jim O'Brien's 32-yard field goal with 5 seconds left.
ESPN national correspondent Sal Paolantonio and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
For those who have never followed him, Mackey was one of the true game changers the NFL has ever seen. All the tight ends today owe EVERYTHING to him. Before he played, a tight end was a blocker, period. He literally revolutionized the position. A true titan of the NFL.