Mackey, from Colts' glory days, to take place among greats today

John Mackey will span two eras of Baltimore football this month.

In Canton, Ohio, today, he will likely become the last player from the Baltimore Colts' glory days to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The prototype of the modern tight end, Mackey played with the Colts from 1963-71, capping the storied 1958-71 era in which the Colts won three championships and fueled the modern pro football boom. The era ended after Bob Irsay bought the team in 1972.

Mackey will take his place with Colt Hall of Famers from that era such as Raymond Berry, Art Donovan, Gino Marchetti, Lenny Moore, Jim Parker, Johnny Unitas and coach Weeb Ewbank.

Mackey also will help usher in what Baltimore hopes will be the beginning of a new football era on Aug. 27 when he'll receive his Hall of Fame ring before the Miami Dolphins- New Orleans Saints' exhibition at Memorial Stadium.

Baltimore hopes that game will help the city in its quest for an expansion team to replace the Colts, who moved to Indianapolis in 1984.

Mackey normally would have gotten his ring at a Colts game, but he said he wanted no part of going to Indianapolis. He never played a game for the Irsay Colts. He was one of the first veterans to be dumped in the Irsay era and signed as a free agent with the San Diego Chargers for his final season in 1972.

Mackey, who was drafted by the Colts on the second round out of Syracuse in 1963, said he was awed simply to meet Unitas. "He was one of my high school idols. I had been hero-worshiping since I was a kid," he said.

Mackey was a devastating blocker who could break a big play once he caught the ball. In 1966, six of Mackey's nine touchdown receptions came on plays of 51, 57, 64, 79, 83 and 89 yards.

His only problem was catching the ball. His habit of dropping passes -- including two on the first half of Super Bowl III -- delayed his selection into the Hall. Only one other tight end, Mike Ditka, has been inducted.

Mackey will be inducted with John Riggins of the Washington Redskins, Al Davis, the owner of the Los Angeles Raiders, and Lem Barney, a Detroit Lions defensive back.

This has been dubbed the "Rebel" class because of Riggins' unconventional behavior and Davis' legal battle to move the Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles. Davis' selection was nTC controversial because he didn't get the required percentage of votes to make it, but was selected because the Hall inducts the four highest vote-getters.

Mackey wasn't really a rebel type, but got the tag because he was a former head of the NFL Players Association and had his name attached to the free-agency lawsuit that was a forerunner of the current suit in Minneapolis. In the conservative NFL, being a union leader qualifies a person for rebel status.

Nobody disputes that Davis and Riggins deserve the rebel tag.

Davis is still complaining he wasn't elected earlier. "Maybe I don't have the same sense of anticipation I would have had if it had happened when I thought it should have," he said.

Riggins once told U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor to "Loosen up, Sandy baby," at a banquet and then fell to the floor fast asleep.

Coach Joe Gibbs of the Redskins remembers when he had a breakfast meeting with Riggins in his first season in 1981 when he was trying to talk Riggins into returning after he sat out the 1980 season in a contract dispute.

"He showed up with a camouflage outfit on and a beer in one hand. He told me before I left, 'I'm going to make you famous if you get me back there.' I left saying, 'I got to get rid of this guy, he's crazy.' The bottom line is he made me famous," Gibbs said.

The ceremonies will be followed by the first exhibition of the season between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Jets.

Hall of Fame facts and figures

When: Today

Where: Pro Football Hall of Fame, Canton, Ohio

Inductees: Lem Barney (cornerback, Detroit Lions, 1967-77); Al Davis (owner, Los Angeles Raiders); John Mackey (tight end, Baltimore Colts, 1963-71; San Diego Chargers, 1972); John Riggins (running back, New York Jets, 1971-75; Washington Redskins, 1976-79; 1981-85)

Exhibition game: New York Jets vs. Philadelphia Eagles, 3 p.m. (channels 13, 7).

Induction ceremonies: To be shown at halftime of Jets-Eagles game.