John Mackey (American football)

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John Mackey
John Mackey (American football).jpg
No. 88, 89
Position:Tight end
Personal information
Born:(1941-09-24)September 24, 1941
Roosevelt, New York
Died:July 6, 2011(2011-07-06) (aged 69)
Baltimore, Maryland
Height:6 ft 2 in (1.88 m)
Weight:224 lb (102 kg)
Career information
High school:Hempstead High School (NY)
NFL Draft:1963 / Round: 2 / Pick: 19
AFL draft:1963 / Round: 5 / Pick: 35
Career history
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Receiving yards:5,236
Yards per reception:15.8
Receiving touchdowns:38
Player stats at
Player stats at PFR

John Mackey (September 24, 1941 – July 6, 2011) was an American football tight end who played for the Baltimore Colts and the San Diego Chargers. He was born in Roosevelt, New York[1] and attended Syracuse University. He was the first president of the National Football League Players Association following the AFL-NFL merger, serving from 1970 to 1973. Mackey was also a big reason for the NFLPA to create the "88 Plan" which would financially support ex-players who required living assistance in later years.

A five-time Pro Bowler, Mackey was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1992, the second pure tight end elected.

Football career[edit]

Mackey was drafted from Syracuse University by the Baltimore Colts in the 1963 NFL Draft. He went on to play a total of 10 NFL seasons as tight end, and became known for his size and speed.[2] Mackey played his first nine seasons with the Colts before leaving the team in 1971. He played his final season with the San Diego Chargers, retiring at the end of the 1972 season.[3] Although a knee injury forced him into early retirement, Mackey only missed one game in his whole career.[4]

During his 10 seasons in the NFL, Mackey scored 38 touchdowns and caught 331 passes for 5236 yards.

Super Bowl V[edit]

Mackey played in Super Bowl V on January 17, 1971. He was involved in a famous game-changing play where he caught a record-setting 75 yard pass from quarterback Johnny Unitas after the ball was deflected twice, once by fellow Colts player Eddie Hinton and once by opposing Dallas Cowboys defenseman Mel Renfro. Baltimore won the game 16–13, following a 32-yard field goal by Jim O'Brien with five seconds left.[2][4][5]


During his playing career, Mackey played in five Pro Bowls, including in his rookie season. He was also named All-NFL three times.[2] In 1992, Mackey was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, becoming only the second pure tight end to be awarded this honor.[4]

Mackey has been included in several lists of great NFL players. In 1999, The Sporting News ranked Mackey at 48 on their list of "The 100 Greatest Football Players."[6] He also placed at number 42 on the NFL Network's list of the "Top 100 Football Players" in 2010.[3][7]

In 2001, the John Mackey Award was established by the Nassau County Sports Commission. The award is given yearly to the top college tight end.[8] On September 15, 2007, Mackey's alma mater, Syracuse University, retired number 88 in his honor.[2]

On September 27, 2017, Mackey was installed, posthumously, into the Nassau County High School Athletic Hall of Fame as an athlete. His widow, Sylvia, accepted the honor on his behalf. This was the third class of the Hall of fame, which is housed in the renovated Nassau County Veterans' Memorial Coliseum.

Post-playing career[edit]

NFL Players Association presidency[edit]

In 1970, Mackey became the first president of the National Football League Players Association following the merger of the National Football League and the American Football League.[9] Although the NFL and AFL each had a candidate for president in mind, Mackey emerged as the leader both sides could agree on.[10] Mackey held the position of president until September 1973.[11]

In his first year as president, Mackey organized a strike following a lockout by owners,[2] with NFL players seeking additional pension contributions and insurance benefits, as well as higher pre- and post-season pay. The strike resulted in increased fringe benefits for NFL players totalling more than $12 million.[12] According to former teammate Ordell Braase, Mackey "had a vision for that job, which was more than just putting in time and keeping the natives calm. You don't get anything unless you really rattle the cage."[2] In 1972, Mackey became the lead plaintiff in a court action which led to the overturning of the so-called "Rozelle Rule," which limited a player's ability to act as a free agent. In 1976, the Rozelle Rule was ruled to violate antitrust laws in Mackey v. NFL.[13][14][15]

Post-career health problems[edit]

Several years after retiring from the NFL, Mackey began to suffer from symptoms of dementia. His condition eventually worsened, and his family was forced to put him into a full-time assisted living facility.[16] Although Mackey received a small pension, it was not sufficient to cover the costs of his care, leading his wife Sylvia to reach out to NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue.[2][16]

Once made aware of the problem, Tagliabue and NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw responded with the "88 plan" in February 2007.[17][18][19] Named for Mackey's jersey number, the plan provides $88,000 per year for nursing home care and up to $50,000 annually for adult day care for former NFL players, including Mackey, suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's.[5] Mackey died July 6, 2011 at the age of 69.[2]


  1. ^ "John Mackey, NFL Hall Of Famer And Long Island Native, Dies At 69". CBS New York. 7 July 2001. Retrieved 26 March 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "Hall of Famer John Mackey dies". 7 July 2011. Retrieved 12 March 2013.
  3. ^ a b Dick Friedman (18 July 2011). "He Gave His All. Make It Matter". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 25 March 2013.
  4. ^ a b c "John Mackey". Pro Football Hall of Fame. Retrieved 25 March 2013.
  5. ^ a b James M Klatell (11 February 2009). "John Mackey: From The NFL To Dementia". CBS News. Retrieved 12 March 2013.
  6. ^ Mike Freeman (1 August 1999). "PRO FOOTBALL: NOTEBOOK; The Best From 1 to 100, And Subject to Debate". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 March 2013.
  7. ^ "Photos: 100 Greatest NFL Players of All Time". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 25 March 2013.
  8. ^ "About Us". Nassau County Sports Commission. Retrieved 25 March 2013.
  9. ^ Levine, Matthew (2006). "Despite His Antics, T.O. Has a Valid Point: Why NFL Players Deserve a Bigger Piece of the Pie". Jeffrey S. Moorad Sports Law Journal. 13 (2): 425–464. Retrieved 22 March 2013.
  10. ^ Jarrett Bell (12 March 2011). "Timeline of NFL labor disputes". USA Today. Retrieved 22 March 2013.
  11. ^ "Mackey Quits Players Post". Schenectady Gazette. 13 September 1973. Retrieved 22 March 2013.
  12. ^ "The Year of the Strike". Ebony. November 1970. Retrieved 22 March 2013.
  13. ^ Novick, David (1975). "The Legality of the Rozelle Rule and Related Practices in the National Football League". Fordham Urban Law Journal. The Berkeley Electronic Press. 4 (3): 581–596. Retrieved 22 March 2013.
  14. ^ John Mackey et al. v. National Football League, 407 F.Supp. 1000 (United States District Court, D. Minnesota, Fourth Division 1975).
  15. ^ Mark Conrad (2010). The Business of Sports: A Primer for Journalists. Routledge. p. 149. ISBN 0415876532.
  16. ^ a b John Gibeaut (1 November 2011). "Thrown for a Loss: Retired Players Sue, Claim NFL Hid Brain Damage Info". ABA Journal. Retrieved 12 March 2013.
  17. ^ Stanley H. Teitelbaum (2010). Athletes Who Indulge Their Dark Side: Sex, Drugs, and Cover-Ups. ABC-CLIO. p. 88. ISBN 1469962772.
  18. ^ Peter Keating (4 December 2007). "Congress questions NFL record-keeping on disabled players". ESPN The Magazine. Retrieved 19 March 2013.
  19. ^ Alan Schwarz (14 March 2007). "Wives United by Husbands' Post-N.F.L. Trauma". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 March 2013.

External links[edit]