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Pete Fierle, Manager - Digital Media/Communications
Pete's familiarity with the game's history is a result of spending two decades surrounded by the world's largest collection of pro football information. His many duties include overseeing the Hall's website as well as the day-to-day operation of the Ralph Wilson, Jr. Pro Football Research and Preservation Center.
A new "For Pete's Sake" blog appears each Thursday.
I had other ideas for this blog today. That was before I woke to the news that John Mackey passed away. Sadly, his death marks the sixth member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame who has died since last year’s Enshrinement Festival.
The legendary Baltimore Colts tight end was preceded in death by George Blanda on Sept. 17, Ollie Matson on Feb. 19, Joe Perry on April 25, Andy Robustelli on May 31, and John Henry Johnson on June 3.
John passed away peacefully late last night surrounded by his family. Now, you’ll read a lot about John’s accomplishments on the football field including the story we posted on our site. You’ll read and watch tributes that talk about how he changed the game of pro football, and how he led the NFL Players Association, and how at the end he suffered from dementia. You’ll be reminded that the NFL’s last labor agreement included an “88 Plan” named for his football jersey number. It provides care for ex-NFL players with Alzheimer’s or dementia.
I don’t need to rehash that news. Rather, I’d like to share an observation from behind the scenes. One of the great pleasures that the Hall of Fame’s staff and Board members receive is the chance to get to know these football greats who are bronzed in Canton. It sounds like a cliché and perhaps mildly corny, but the truth is that the Hall of Famers are like family to us.
No doubt today, I have visions of the NFL Films clips of Mackey’s career and many great photos that captured his play as he revolutionized the position of tight end. But, most strikingly to me are the more recent memories of John’s visits to Canton. Always at his side was his devoted wife Sylvia.
Despite the fact that John’s condition worsened, he managed to be able to make many return visits “home” to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton. He took part in festivities from autograph sessions to joining the many returning Hall of Famers during each Enshrinement Festival weekend. And wherever John went, not far away was Sylvia making sure things were alright.
Sylvia also had the help of many Hall of Famers who were also an important part of his life, more or less John’s “extended” family. The Hall of Fame is a special fraternity and while I observe only from outside the circle, I can tell you it is special to see how these football legends looked after John when he came back to Hall of Fame weekends.
Sylvia and the rest of the Mackey family will remain in the thoughts of their entire Hall of Fame “family” as they deal with this great loss.