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Ex-Colt Mackey leads rebellious class into Hall
When the door to Pro Football's Hall of Fame finally swung open for John Mackey yesterday, the former Baltimore Colts great found rich irony in the knowledge that Al Davis would be joining him.
"All the troublemakers go in together," Mackey said with devilish delight from a hotel room in Minneapolis.
A prototypical tight end for the Colts in the 1960s, Mackey bucked the NFL establishment as president of the players' union. Later, he won a lawsuit that made the Rozelle Rule illegal, giving players a form of free agency.
Davis, president and general partner of the Raiders, waged a successful court fight to move his team from Oakland, Calif., to Los Angeles in the 1980s, creating franchise free agency. He also testified against the NFL in the USFL's failed antitrust lawsuit against the league in 1986.
"I feel I am the establishment," said Davis, who had campaigned hard for his election. "I'd rather have the word 'maverick' than 'rebel' [used to describe him]."
Mackey and Davis were selected along with former Washington Redskins running back John Riggins -- who once sat a season in a contract dispute -- and Detroit Lions cornerback Lem Barney for induction into the Hall of Fame next summer. The four newest inductees were voted into the Hall by a 31-man selection committee made up of sportswriters across the country.
Mackey was elected in his 15th and final year of eligibility. He was a finalist five times. It has been speculated that that Mackey's union activities delayed his election. He, however, is evasive on the subject.
"I really don't know," he said when asked why election took so long. "What makes me feel good is I have received thousands of letters after retiring from football -- more than I got when I played -- saying I should be in the Hall of Fame. They even send fan mail to Indianapolis, and the Colts forward it to me."
Mackey, 50, who lives in Long Beach, Calif., said he didn't think about possible repercussions when he directed the players' association after the AFL and NFL merged in 1966.
"In the middle of it, I never thought about the Hall of Fame, or what might happen with my career," he said. "In the middle of a battle, you do the best you can to win it.
"[But] I never thought this day wouldn't come."
Mackey's career spanned nine seasons with the Colts and one with the San Diego Chargers. He was a second-round draft pick in 1963 as a burly, 6-foot-2 tight end out of Syracuse.
He caught 331 passes for 5,236 yards and 38 touchdowns in the NFL, and played in two Super Bowls. His most famous play came in Super Bowl V, when he caught a tipped pass from John Unitas and turned it into a 75-yard touchdown, then a Super Bowl record.
But his own personal highlight reel would show Mackey clearing a path for the Colts' running game.
"You're going to laugh about it, but I remember the 34 trap and 36 trap," he said. "My job was to wipe out the defensive end and go get the linebacker. Man, that's what I loved. I ran over a lot of those guys."
Mackey was a devastating blocker in the mold of the Chicago Bears' Mike Ditka. Fittingly, Mackey follows Ditka as the second pure tight end elected to the Hall.
"The best part of my game was hitting," he said. "I liked Mike Ditka. I used to study Mike. When he was at the University of Pittsburgh, I was at Syracuse and I watched him play. I wanted to be just like Mike. He'd hit you and annihilate you. I was quicker. I'd annihilate you with one hit."
Dick Szymanski, who played with him on those Colts teams, said fans probably remember Mackey for his running ability after making a catch. What Szymanski remembers, though, are two long touchdown runs in which six to eight defensive players "bounced off him like rubber balls.
"Mackey was an awesome football player," Szymanski said. "Once he caught the ball, he was hell to stop. He deserved to get in [the Hall] a lot sooner."
Mackey is the eighth Colts player to be elected to the Hall. The others are Unitas, Raymond Berry, Lenny Moore, Art Donovan, Jim Parker, Gino Marchetti and Ted Hendricks. Weeb Ewbank, Colts coach during 1954-62, also is enshrined.
Mackey, who grew up in Long Island, N.Y., said he still has a fondness for Baltimore.
"My wife [Sylvia] and I will always have fond memories of $H Baltimore," he said. "Our kids started their education there, and it was a wonderful time to live and play in Baltimore. I'm hoping one day they have a team of their own. And I hope they don't live in the past. I hope they let the new team grow on its own."
There were two other finalists for the Hall of Fame -- Tom Mack, the 1966-78 Los Angeles Rams guard who was voted into 11 Pro Bowls, and Charlie Joiner, the Chargers receiver who held the NFL record for catches (650) when he retired in 1986. Because Mack and Joiner made the final six, they will be on the ballot again next year.
Riggins, who is in Cancun, Mexico, where he is host to the Jose Cuervo Super Bowl Beach Party, said: "I did what I wanted, and I wouldn't change what I did to belong to this club. My image was less than Jack Armstrong, but in my heart, I was probably Jack Armstrong with a different point of view. I was Igor and Dr. Frankenstein in one, doing my own experiments.
"My personality is that I don't take too many things too seriously. This will touch me more as time goes by. It hasn't made me better-looking, though."
Barney said he played golf yesterday. "I wasn't concentrating on this," he said. "I thought to myself, whatever happens happens. When I heard, it meant that my career had come full circle."
Mackey said his only Hall of Fame regret is that his mother isn't alive to see him inducted in Canton, Ohio.
"She was quite sure I'd make it," he said. "She used to say, 'I'm going to be there when they induct you into the Hall of Fame.' 1% "I'll guarantee she'll be there."
Class of '92
A capsule look at the four men named for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame: LEM BARNEY
Cornerback, Detroit Lions, 1967-1977: His first year out of Jackson State, he was named defensive rookie of the year, sharing the NFL lead with 10 interceptions and returning three for touchdowns. His 56 interceptions for 1,079 yards in returns (seven for touchdowns) rank him 11th among all-time interception leaders. He played in seven Pro Bowls. AL DAVIS
Scout, assistant coach, head coach, general manager, league commissioner and principal team owner and chief executive officer, Oakland-Los Angeles Raiders, 1960-present: Named the Raiders head coach and general manager in 1963 at 33, Davis led the team to a 10-4 record and was named the AFL Coach of the Year. He was 23-16-3 in three years as a head coach. During the first 27 years of the "Davis era" (1963-1988), the Raiders' .671 winning percentage was the finest in all of professional sports. He became the AFL Commissioner in 1966 and the AFL-NFL merger followed two months later. JOHN MACKEY
Tight end, Baltimore Colts-San Diego Chargers, 1963-1971: He missed only one game in his pro career, nine seasons of which was with the Colts. He was considered a prototype tight end, a strong blocker with breakaway speed and the ability to avoid tacklers. Despite his 6-2, 224-pound frame, he had the speed to go deep: In 1966, he had touchdown catches covering 51, 57, 64, 79, 83 and 89 yards. He totaled 331 catches for 5,236 yards and 38 touchdowns for his career. JOHN RIGGINS
Running back, New York Jets-Washington Redskins, 1971-79, 1981-85: Riggins is the NFL's sixth-leading rusher, with 11,352 yards, including 116 touchdowns, third highest in the history of the NFL. He sat out 1980 because of a contract squabble. Riggins was the MVP in the 1983 Super Bowl.