He had speed and size and great hands. I was fortunate to have seen him play in person. My father and I drove through a pouring rainstorm to see the Colts play the Oilers in the Astrodome in October of 1970. It was the only Baltimore Colt game I ever attended. Mackey caught two Johnny Unitas passes for 21 yards. He was no longer a focal point of the team's offense but he still had skills.
Two things stand out about that game. First is that had it not been a Colt game we might not have gone. The rain was horrendous as it often can be in Houston, and we had to get up from watching the Orioles and Reds playing Game Two of the World Series. But it was the Colts and my Dad knew how much I wanted to actually see Unitas play so off we went, listening to the Orioles as we drove.
The second thing is how the Colts won. On their last drive of the game Unitas threw a scoring strike to Roy Jefferson for the winning TD. As long as I live I'll never forget seeing my all time favorite athlete throw the pass and begin to trot towards the sidelines even before it was caught, not even watching. Even nearing the end of his career Unitas was a joy to watch.
A few months later Mackey took a tipped pass off the hands of Eddie Hinton and the Cowboy's Mel Renfro and scored a 50 yards TD in Super Bowl III. Those were heady days for me!
John Mackey is a Hall of Famer but politics held him out of the Hall for far too long. His work as the NFLPA's first president was held against him. It angered me at the time. He has since been named to many all-time great lists including being ranked as #48 on the NFL Network's Top 100 NFL players of all time.
John Mackey, an engaging, witty and intelligent man in his prime was defeated by dementia in his later years. He died of the effects in July of last year.