Soon, in a matter of days, John Mackey will be on his way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He's one of 15 possibilities from among an elite collection of exceptional talents facing the final countdown. There's no guarantee, but prevailing sentiment suggests this will be his year.
Should Mackey be accepted for pro football's most distinguished honor, it will give the Baltimore Colts close to a full team complement. The other former Colts preceding him to the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, include Y.A. Tittle, Art Donovan, Gino Marchetti, Lenny Moore, Jim Parker, Raymond Berry, John Unitas, Joe Perry, Ted Hendricks and coach Weeb Ewbank.
A jury of 31 sportswriters and broadcasters has pared an extensive list of 66 candidates -- including players, coaches and administrators -- to a group of 15 would-be Hall of Famers. Mackey, former tight end of the Baltimore Colts and San Diego Chargers, and Al Davis, owner of the Los Angeles Raiders, became automatically eligible this year because in 1991 they were among the seven finalists in a group that found Earl Campbell, John Hannah, Stan Jones, Tex Schramm and Jan Stenerud being elected.
Surviving the current voting are 15 names to be considered for the class of 1992: Lem Barney, Bob Brown, Dan Dierdorf, Carl Eller, the late Willie Galimore (a special nominee of the Seniors Committee), Ray Guy, Charlie Joiner, Tom Mack, John Riggins, Lynn Swann and Mackey; coaches Bud Grant and Bill Walsh and administrators Wellington Mara and Davis.
Held off for future consideration are some personal choices who didn't command sufficient totals to advance into the final round of voting. They would be Leroy Kelly, Hal Carmichael, Jackie Smith, Roger Wehrli, L.C. Greenwood, Jimmy Johnson, Ralph Neely and Ron Yary. None was able to score enough support from the rest of the Hall of Fame selectors so they'll have to wait for further review.
A host of other quality nominees also didn't qualify. But, traditionally, there are few first-year eligibles who gain admission, as happened with Marchetti, Berry, Parker, Unitas and a handful of others.
Prolonged waits are more the norm than the exception, as witness extensive delays for such figures as retired commissioner Pete Rozelle, Willie Wood, Sam Huff, Doug Atkins and Paul Hornung. The Hall of Fame should be a difficult ticket for admission and it is. Pro football handles the selections with a style that differs from other major league sports.
Each league city has a representative on the committee. The late Paul Menton, sports editor of The Evening Sun, served two years and told the Hall of Fame board of directors we should follow as his replacement. Though Baltimore, Oakland and St. Louis lost franchises, the Hall of Fame decided those three cities should continue to have selectors participating.
The meeting to decide on the 1992 inductees, with discussions on all 15 candidates, will be held Saturday, the eve of the Super Bowl, in Minneapolis. Votes are sealed and counted by the Arthur Andersen accounting firm with the Hall of Fame later announcing the results. The new recipients will be invited to attend the Pro Bowl Game in Hawaii, where they'll be formally introduced as the Class of '92. Their official Hall of Fame enshrinement in Canton, Ohio, won't happen until late July or early August.
To make the Hall of Fame, a candidate must receive 25 affirmative votes on 80.6 percent of the ballots, providing all 31 voters are in attendance Saturday. Last year, 29 were present and it took 23 "yes" votes to make the grade.
A player moves into the Seniors Committee category (formerly called the "Old Timers") if he has been rejected after 15 years on the regular list. But that doesn't guarantee access either. Of the 18 previously proposed by the Senior Committee, only 12 have been elected.
For a player to be placed into the preliminary consideration, the public simply may write to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and suggest any individual who has been retired from the sport five years. Then the process is turned over to the writers and broadcasters, who work to reduce the massive master list to a final 15.
Since Mackey has been a finalist the last two years, he most assuredly will make another strong run, without the ball, at the Hall of Fame ballot box. His time has arrived.