Pro Football Hall of Fame tight end John Mackey has died at the age of 69. Mackey passed away peacefully on Wednesday evening surrounded by his family.
Mackey in 1992 became just the second player at his position to earn election to the Hall of Fame. His place was cemented in history with a stellar career with the Baltimore Colts from 1963-1971 and one final season with the San Diego Chargers in 1972. Regarded as one of the first great pass-catching tight ends Mackey caught 331 passes for 5,236 yards and 38 touchdowns in his career.
“I extend sincere condolences to John’s wife Sylvia and the Mackey family who have been at his side for so many years,” stated Steve Perry, the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s president/executive director. “John’s passing is a great loss to the pro football community. He will be missed. John Mackey’s contributions to this game are immeasurable as he played such a vital role in the evolution of the tight end as an offensive threat.”
Mackey, at 6’2”, 224 pounds, had size but also possessed great speed. He played running back for two seasons at Syracuse before he was switched to tight end. The Colts drafted him in the second round of the 1963 NFL Draft (he was also drafted in the American Football League by the New York Titans). Baltimore briefly contemplated playing him at fullback before having him settle in at tight end.
In an era when a tight end was regarded more as an extra lineman than pass catcher, Mackey almost single-handedly changed the role of his position. As a rookie he averaged an incredible and career-high 20.7 yards on 35 receptions for 726 yards and 7 touchdowns. An injury in his second season limited his ability to run routes but he continued to excel as a blocker, a role that was somewhat overshadowed in his career due to his huge receiving numbers. Mackey returned to form in 1965 when he again registered big numbers with 40 catches for 814 yards and 7 touchdowns. His explosiveness and speed helped him continue on a torrid pace in subsequent years. Perhaps no season was more spectacular for Mackey than in 1966 when he hauled in 50 receptions for 829 yards and 9 TDs. Six of those scores that year came on long pass plays (51, 57, 64, 79, 83, and 89).
Making his accomplishments more impressive was the fact that Mackey faced double-teaming by defenses during much of his prime.
“The only time a double team bothers me," he once shared, “is when no one gets open. I don’t care if I don’t catch a pass just as long as I can take two men with me on my patterns.”
Mackey, who was voted the greatest tight end in the NFL’s first 50 years, appeared in two Super Bowls during his nine seasons in Baltimore. Arguably the most famous play of his career came during the Colts’ 16-13 win over the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl V. He alertly grabbed a deflected pass from quarterback Johnny Unitas and raced 75 yards for the Colts first score. At the time, it was the longest touchdown pass in a Super Bowl.
He was named first-team All-NFL three straight seasons from 1966-68 and voted to five Pro Bowls in his career.
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