CANTON, Ohio -- Defensive players never saw much humor in John Mackey. If
he didn't punish them at the line of scrimmage with one of his blocks, he
pounded them farther downfield after catching a pass from quarterback Johnny
But yesterday, when the former Baltimore Colts tight end entered the Pro
Football Hall of Fame, even former Detroit Lions defensive back Lem Barney had
Mackey was part of an unconventional ceremony honoring four unconventional
men. He went into the Hall of Fame with Barney, who sang; John Riggins, who
recited a poem; and Al Davis, who read a tribute from a convicted felon.
Mackey, who was cheered by a large group of Baltimore fans wearing Colts
blue, recalled the day he found out he had been voted into the Hall last
January in Minneapolis during Super Bowl week. He said he returned to his
hotel room and found the message light blinking on his phone. He called the
front desk and the operator said she had several messages for him.
When he asked why, she told him, "Because you've been indicted."
Mackey said he asked her what he had been indicted for and she said,
"You've been indicted for the Pro Football Hall of Fame."
He added, a little more seriously: "My father used to always ask me, 'Son,
where are your feet?' He always wanted your feet on the ground so you wouldn't
get your head too high in the clouds. I tried to monitor what I was becoming
as I pursued my goals. Today I am awfully proud."
Mackey is often described as the prototype of the modern tight end while
with the Baltimore Colts in the 1960s and 1970s. He was 6 feet 2, 224 pounds,
and combined power and speed. In 1966, six of Mackey's nine touchdown
receptions came on plays of 51, 57, 64, 79, 83 and 89 yards.
The only area in which he failed to excel was in catching the ball, which
might have delayed his selection to the Hall of Fame. Only one other tight
end, Mike Ditka, has been inducted.
Mackey played nine seasons for the Colts and finished his career with the
San Diego Chargers in 1972.
The rest of the ceremony did not lack for color.
Riggins likened his 14 years as a punishing running back with the
Washington Redskins and New York Jets to conquering nature. He read a poem by
Robert Service about man's assault on the Yukon not long after he was
presented for induction by NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue.
"Why did I get the commissioner to introduce me?" Riggins asked in his
opening remarks. " Madonna had a headache."
Riggins was well known for his off-the-field antics, including wearing a
Mohawk haircut, sitting out a year in a contract dispute and telling Supreme
Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor to "loosen up, Sandy baby."
Davis has served pro football as a scout, assistant coach, head coach,
American Football League commissioner and as an owner. Yet due in part to his
legendary legal battles with the NFL establishment, Davis was not admitted to
the Hall of Fame until his seventh year of eligibility.
He then read portions of a newspaper story about Claude Jones, convicted
of robbing 24 banks to get the money to buy tickets to Raiders games. Davis
read that Jones said when he is released from prison he would love to work for
the Raiders, "but I wouldn't handle the banking."
After Davis spoke, Jack Kemp, a former AFL quarterback and currently the
secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, introduced
Mackey, who helped lead a players strike while head of the NFL Players
Association, said he wished he could give half of his Hall of Fame honors to
former Syracuse teammate Ernie Davis. The first black Heisman Trophy winner,
Davis died of leukemia before playing in the NFL.
Barney gained fame as a quick and elusive defensive back and kick returner
in his 11 years with the Lions. But he used crutches to leave the front steps
of the Hall of Fame after the induction ceremonies because of a recent
infection after Achilles' tendon surgery.
Barney began his remarks by singing the opening strains of "For Once in a