Baltimore Colts legendary tight end John Mackey passed away Wednesday at the age of 69 after a long, public battle with Alzheimer's Disease. The NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame Mackey's fight with dementia was recognized, all too late, with the formation of the "88 Plan," which increased medical coverage for former players who suffered from this disease long after their playing days were over.
(Please honor John Mackey by clicking on the 'Jump' to read the rest of this story, including the official statement from former Baltimore Colt Bruce Laird of the Fourth & Goal Foundation.)
According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, Mackey played for the Colts from 1963-1971, catching 320 passes for 5,126 and 38 TDs. He played one more season with the San Diego Chargers before retiring and was inducted in Canton, Ohio in 1992, after being a finalist in the voting in 1979, 1989, 1990 and 1991, but not receiving enough votes to get in.
At 6'2" and 224 pounds, Mackey is smaller than many wide receivers in today's game, but was a major force and difficult match-up back in his day. Most tight ends in his era were strictly run blockers, while Mackey has been credited with changing the face of the tight end position to a receiving threat. His most famous reception was a 75 yard touch run catch and run off of a double-tipped pass from Johnny Unitas in the Colts 16-13 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl V in 1971 (see YouTube video above).
Mackey's wife, Sylvia, was always by his side, telling his story and was an outspoken supporter of the cause for fighting Alzheimer's disease. Frank Deford wrote a heartwarming story on his plight and her fight titled, The Cautionary Tale of John Mackey, NFL Star.
Official Statement from the Fourth & Goal Foundation:
Pro football lost a giant yesterday, when John Mackey passed away.
His contributions to the game, the league, the union, and the players are legendary. His contributions to humanity – to improving the quality of life for the underserved – are even greater. John Mackey tackled every opponent – whether on the football field, in the courts, among those in need, or in the medical facilities where his dementia was diagnosed and treated – with passion, courage and commitment.
John’s legacy will endure. His diagnosis of dementia (at age 59) was the catalyst for the founding of Fourth & Goal and, by extension, for the NFL’s focus on the ramifications of football injuries. The 88 Plan, named in John’s honor, provides care for those afflicted with dementia, Alzheimers and similar neurological diseases. Other resources have been made available to retired players. Yet John’s struggle with dementia reminds us every day that the league, the union, the players, and the fans must be committed to player safety and to assisting those who, like John, suffer the consequences of football injuries.
To those of us who knew him, who loved him and whose hearts broke as we saw his suffering with dementia, John’s big shoes can never be filled. Our thoughts and prayers are with John’s wife Sylvia, his children and grandchildren. We will miss #88.
President, Fourth & Goal Foundation
Baltimore Colts, 1972-1981
San Diego Chargers, 1982-1983