John Mackey, who is best remembered as the hardnosed Hall of Famer tight end for the Baltimore Colts but made his greatest impact on the game fighting for veterans’ rights, died Thursday. He was 69.
Mackey, who later battled with dementia, fought for increased for increased veterans benefits and in the 2006 NFL labor agreement there was the “88 Plan,” which gives retired players up to $88,000 per year for nursing care or day care for those who suffer from dementia or Alzheimer's disease. Former players can also receive $50,000 for home care. The number 88 is a tribute to Mackey, who wore the number during his playing days.
"John Mackey was one of the great leaders in NFL history, on and off the field," commissioner Roger Goodell said to the Associated Press. "He was a Hall of Fame player who redefined the tight end position. 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."
Mackey, who was once the union president, starred with the Colts from 1963-71, helping Baltimore to the 1971 Super Bowl. Mackey is best known in that game for catching a deflected pass from Johnny Unitas for a 75-yard touchdown.
"John Mackey is still our leader. As the president of the NFLPA, he led the fight for fairness with a brilliance and with ferocious drive," union executive director DeMaurice Smith said to AP. "His passion continues to define our organization and inspire our players. His unwavering loyalty to our mission and his exemplary courage will never be forgotten."
Mackey, who played 10 years in the NFL, spent the 1972 season with the San Diego Chargers. He ended his career with 331 catches for 5,236 yards and 38 touchdowns.
(Photo: Brian Bahr/Getty Images)