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.
A prototypical tight end for the Colts in the 1960s, Mackey bucked the NFL
establishment as president of the players' union. Later, he won a lawsuit that
made the Rozelle Rule illegal, giving players a form of free agency.
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
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
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 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."
Mackey is the eighth Colts player to be elected to the Hall. The others
are Unitas, Raymond Berry, Lenny Moore, Art Donovan, Jim Parker, Gino
Marchetti and Ted Hendricks. Weeb Ewbank, Colts coach during 1954-62, also is
Mackey, who grew up in Long Island, N.Y., said he still has a fondness for
"My wife [Sylvia] and I will always have fond memories of $H Baltimore,"
he said. "Our kids started their education there, and it was a wonderful time
to live and play in Baltimore. I'm hoping one day they have a team of their
own. And I hope they don't live in the past. I hope they let the new team grow
on its own."
There were two other finalists for the Hall of Fame -- Tom Mack, the
1966-78 Los Angeles Rams guard who was voted into 11 Pro Bowls, and Charlie
Joiner, the Chargers receiver who held the NFL record for catches (650) when
he retired in 1986. Because Mack and Joiner made the final six, they will be
on the ballot again next year.
Riggins, who is in Cancun, Mexico, where he is host to the Jose Cuervo
Super Bowl Beach Party, said: "I did what I wanted, and I wouldn't change what
I did to belong to this club. My image was less than Jack Armstrong, but in my
heart, I was probably Jack Armstrong with a different point of view. I was
Igor and Dr. Frankenstein in one, doing my own experiments.
"My personality is that I don't take too many things too seriously. This
will touch me more as time goes by. It hasn't made me better-looking, though."
Barney said he played golf yesterday. "I wasn't concentrating on this," he
said. "I thought to myself, whatever happens happens. When I heard, it meant
that my career had come full circle."
Mackey said his only Hall of Fame regret is that his mother isn't alive to
see him inducted in Canton, Ohio.
"She was quite sure I'd make it," he said. "She used to say, 'I'm going to
be there when they induct you into the Hall of Fame.'
1% "I'll guarantee she'll be there."
Class of '92
A capsule look at the four men named for induction into the Pro Football
Hall of Fame:
Cornerback, Detroit Lions, 1967-1977: His first year out of Jackson State,
he was named defensive rookie of the year, sharing the NFL lead with 10
interceptions and returning three for touchdowns. His 56 interceptions for
1,079 yards in returns (seven for touchdowns) rank him 11th among all-time
interception leaders. He played in seven Pro Bowls.
Scout, assistant coach, head coach, general manager, league commissioner
and principal team owner and chief executive officer, Oakland-Los Angeles
Raiders, 1960-present: Named the Raiders head coach and general manager in
1963 at 33, Davis led the team to a 10-4 record and was named the AFL Coach of
the Year. He was 23-16-3 in three years as a head coach. During the first 27
years of the "Davis era" (1963-1988), the Raiders' .671 winning percentage was
the finest in all of professional sports. He became the AFL Commissioner in
1966 and the AFL-NFL merger followed two months later.
Tight end, Baltimore Colts-San Diego Chargers, 1963-1971: He missed only
one game in his pro career, nine seasons of which was with the Colts. He was
considered a prototype tight end, a strong blocker with breakaway speed and
the ability to avoid tacklers. Despite his 6-2, 224-pound frame, he had the
speed to go deep: In 1966, he had touchdown catches covering 51, 57, 64, 79,
83 and 89 yards. He totaled 331 catches for 5,236 yards and 38 touchdowns for
Running back, New York Jets-Washington Redskins, 1971-79, 1981-85: Riggins
is the NFL's sixth-leading rusher, with 11,352 yards, including 116
touchdowns, third highest in the history of the NFL. He sat out 1980 because
of a contract squabble. Riggins was the MVP in the 1983 Super Bowl.