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Mackey and Clark connection goes beyond records

Mackey And Clark Connection Goes Beyond Records

By Larry Hawley

Nothing beats a record-breaking catch, especially when it breaks the mold.

With an extended right arm in the air and his hand extended above his helmet, Dallas Clark found a way to reel in his a touchdown catch from Peyton Manning in the first quarter Sunday in Baltimore.

As impressive as the grab was, its significance was bigger, for it made him the Colts' all-time leading receiver as a tight end. That touchdown grab was his 321st in Indianapolis, and it happened in the original home of the franchise.

It happened in the old stomping grounds of John Mackey.

That's the man who owned the record for tight end catches by an Colt until Sunday, but he still holds the franchise record for touchdowns (40, but Clark's now got 39) and yardage (at 5,126, Clark is still over a thousand away).

He's remembered for his tackle breaking runs after receptions, and then running away. He averaged 15.8 yards per catch during his career and averaged 30.1 yards-per kick return. He was a member of the Colts Super Bowl III and Super Bowl V teams, and was considered one of the top players of the Baltimore era and in the NFL as well.

Mackey's play helped to redefine the position of tight end into its more modern day role of pass catching, paving the way for the likes of Clark to be more than just a part of a blocking scheme.

That's what he did on the field. His story off has done so much more.

The Hall of Famer-the second true tight end to be elected-suffers from dementia, which may have been brought on by his time of taking multiple hits in the NFL. No link has been officially proven, but reading between the lines would show that playing football for a long time takes it's toll on the player.

It's placed him into a assisted living facility and has hindered not only the memory of his playing career but simple things like names of family members. This was not uncommon for football players of the past, who suffered from similar symptoms and ailments through the years.

That stopped with Mackey. His story made the NFL create the "Plan 88" for alumni of the league, which gives them $88,000 for out-of-home care per year along with $50,000 for in-house care. It's one of the first steps in what has been a long road for former players to receive assistance for long term health issues.

Many of those concerns were expressed during the congressional hearings on the NFL's concussion policy in late October. Organized by Michigan representative John Conyers, it featured former NFL players and current league commissioner Roger Goodell testifying about the issues pertaining to head injuries.

Mackey's wife, Sylvia, was in attendance, but in spirit along side of her was the man who recently broke one of her husband's records.

That week during the Colts' media sessions at the 56th street complex, Clark was asked about the hearings, and what ensued was a nearly 10 minute discussion about the issue. Having suffered a handful of concussions during his Colts' career, Clark stressed the importance of teams and players to get the proper care once a head injury occurs.

Always an entertaining and often light-hearten soundbite, Clark spoke with as much passion on this subject as any that pertains to the game of football.

So as the gap between Clark and Mackey closes in the record books, so do their concerns for their fellow players-and that's slowly making a difference for former and current members of the league.

In the end, their efforts to raise awareness of the issues makes much more of an impact than a one-handed catch on a stat sheet.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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