Pro Football Hall of Fame tight end John Mackey, who was a force on the field and become a symbol of difficulties for football players after their careers, has died, it was announced Thursday. He was 69.
Mackey's combination of size, speed and soft hands made him the NFL's prototypical tight end in the 1960s, as he formed an explosive combination with Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas on the Baltimore Colts. Mackey, who was a one-time leader of the NFL Players Association, suffered from dementia in recent years.
"John Mackey has inspired me and will continue to inspire our players and define our institution," current NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith tweeted Thursday morning. "He will be missed but never forgotten."
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell issued a statement in which he called Mackey "one of the great leaders in NFL history, on and off the field."
"He was a Hall of Fame player who redefined the tight end position," Goodell said. "He was a courageous advocate for his fellow NFL players as head of the NFL Players Association. He worked closely with our office on many issues through the years, including serving as the first president of the NFL Youth Football Fund. He never stopped fighting the good fight. Our thoughts are with (his wife) Sylvia and the Mackey family on the loss of our good friend."
Mackey caught 331 passes for 5,236 yards and 38 touchdowns in a 10-year career that was cut short by knee injuries. In a career full of dazzling highlight-reel plays, perhaps the most recognizable came in Super Bowl V, when he grabbed a deflected pass from Johnny Unitas that produced a 75-yard touchdown, a Super Bowl record at the time.
A NFL labor agreement ratified in 2006 includes the so-called "88 plan," named for Mackey's jersey number, 88. It provides up to $88,000 per year for nursing care or day care for ex-players with dementia or Alzheimer's disease, or $50,000 for home care.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.*