MINNEAPOLIS—When the door to Pro Football's Hall of Fame finally swung open for John Mackey yesterday, the former Baltimore Colts great found rich irony in the knowledge that Al Davis would be joining him.
"All the troublemakers go in together," Mackey said with devilish delight from a hotel room in Minneapolis.
Davis, president and general partner of the Raiders, waged a successful court fight to move his team from Oakland, Calif., to Los Angeles in the 1980s, creating franchise free agency. He also testified against the NFL in the USFL's failed antitrust lawsuit against the league in 1986.
"I feel I am the establishment," said Davis, who had campaigned hard for his election. "I'd rather have the word 'maverick' than 'rebel' [used to describe him]."
Mackey and Davis were selected along with former Washington Redskins running back John Riggins -- who once sat a season in a contract dispute -- and Detroit Lions cornerback Lem Barney for induction into the Hall of Fame next summer. The four newest inductees were voted into the Hall by a 31-man selection committee made up of sportswriters across the country.
Mackey was elected in his 15th and final year of eligibility. He was a finalist five times. It has been speculated that that Mackey's union activities delayed his election. He, however, is evasive on the subject.
"I really don't know," he said when asked why election took so long. "What makes me feel good is I have received thousands of letters after retiring from football -- more than I got when I played -- saying I should be in the Hall of Fame. They even send fan mail to Indianapolis, and the Colts forward it to me."
Mackey, 50, who lives in Long Beach, Calif., said he didn't think about possible repercussions when he directed the players' association after the AFL and NFL merged in 1966.
"In the middle of it, I never thought about the Hall of Fame, or what might happen with my career," he said. "In the middle of a battle, you do the best you can to win it.
"[But] I never thought this day wouldn't come."
Mackey's career spanned nine seasons with the Colts and one with the San Diego Chargers. He was a second-round draft pick in 1963 as a burly, 6-foot-2 tight end out of Syracuse.
He caught 331 passes for 5,236 yards and 38 touchdowns in the NFL, and played in two Super Bowls. His most famous play came in Super Bowl V, when he caught a tipped pass from John Unitas and turned it into a 75-yard touchdown, then a Super Bowl record.
But his own personal highlight reel would show Mackey clearing a path for the Colts' running game.
"You're going to laugh about it, but I remember the 34 trap and 36 trap," he said. "My job was to wipe out the defensive end and go get the linebacker. Man, that's what I loved. I ran over a lot of those guys."
Mackey was a devastating blocker in the mold of the Chicago Bears' Mike Ditka. Fittingly, Mackey follows Ditka as the second pure tight end elected to the Hall.
"The best part of my game was hitting," he said. "I liked Mike Ditka. I used to study Mike. When he was at the University of Pittsburgh, I was at Syracuse and I watched him play. I wanted to be just like Mike. He'd hit you and annihilate you. I was quicker. I'd annihilate you with one hit."
Dick Szymanski, who played with him on those Colts teams, said fans probably remember Mackey for his running ability after making a catch. What Szymanski remembers, though, are two long touchdown runs in which six to eight defensive players "bounced off him like rubber balls.
"Mackey was an awesome football player," Szymanski said. "Once he caught the ball, he was hell to stop. He deserved to get in [the Hall] a lot sooner."