Mackey, from Colts' glory days, to take place among greats today

SportsFootballBaltimore ColtsNew York JetsWashington RedskinsPhiladelphia EaglesLem Barney

John Mackey will span two eras of Baltimore football this month.

In Canton, Ohio, today, he will likely become the last player from the Baltimore Colts' glory days to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The prototype of the modern tight end, Mackey played with the Colts from1963-71, capping the storied 1958-71 era in which the Colts won threechampionships and fueled the modern pro football boom. The era ended after BobIrsay bought the team in 1972.

Mackey will take his place with Colt Hall of Famers from that era such as Raymond Berry, Art Donovan, Gino Marchetti, Lenny Moore, Jim Parker, JohnnyUnitas and coach Weeb Ewbank.

Mackey also will help usher in what Baltimore hopes will be the beginningof a new football era on Aug. 27 when he'll receive his Hall of Fame ringbefore the Miami Dolphins- New Orleans Saints' exhibition at Memorial Stadium.

Baltimore hopes that game will help the city in its quest for an expansionteam to replace the Colts, who moved to Indianapolis in 1984.

Mackey normally would have gotten his ring at a Colts game, but he said hewanted no part of going to Indianapolis. He never played a game for the IrsayColts. He was one of the first veterans to be dumped in the Irsay era andsigned as a free agent with the San Diego Chargers for his final season in1972.

Mackey, who was drafted by the Colts on the second round out of Syracusein 1963, said he was awed simply to meet Unitas. "He was one of my high schoolidols. I had been hero-worshiping since I was a kid," he said.

Mackey was a devastating blocker who could break a big play once he caughtthe ball. In 1966, six of Mackey's nine touchdown receptions came on plays of51, 57, 64, 79, 83 and 89 yards.

His only problem was catching the ball. His habit of dropping passes --including two on the first half of Super Bowl III -- delayed his selectioninto the Hall. Only one other tight end, Mike Ditka, has been inducted.

Mackey will be inducted with John Riggins of the Washington Redskins, AlDavis, the owner of the Los Angeles Raiders, and Lem Barney, a Detroit Lionsdefensive back.

This has been dubbed the "Rebel" class because of Riggins' unconventionalbehavior and Davis' legal battle to move the Raiders from Oakland to LosAngeles. Davis' selection was nTC controversial because he didn't get therequired percentage of votes to make it, but was selected because the Hallinducts the four highest vote-getters.

Mackey wasn't really a rebel type, but got the tag because he was a formerhead of the NFL Players Association and had his name attached to thefree-agency lawsuit that was a forerunner of the current suit in Minneapolis.In the conservative NFL, being a union leader qualifies a person for rebelstatus.

Nobody disputes that Davis and Riggins deserve the rebel tag.

Davis is still complaining he wasn't elected earlier. "Maybe I don't havethe same sense of anticipation I would have had if it had happened when Ithought it should have," he said.

Riggins once told U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor to"Loosen up, Sandy baby," at a banquet and then fell to the floor fast asleep.

Coach Joe Gibbs of the Redskins remembers when he had a breakfast meetingwith Riggins in his first season in 1981 when he was trying to talk Rigginsinto returning after he sat out the 1980 season in a contract dispute.

"He showed up with a camouflage outfit on and a beer in one hand. He toldme before I left, 'I'm going to make you famous if you get me back there.' Ileft saying, 'I got to get rid of this guy, he's crazy.' The bottom line is hemade me famous," Gibbs said.

The ceremonies will be followed by the first exhibition of the seasonbetween the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Jets.

Hall of Fame facts and figures

When: Today

Where: Pro Football Hall of Fame, Canton, Ohio

Inductees: Lem Barney (cornerback, Detroit Lions, 1967-77); Al Davis(owner, Los Angeles Raiders); John Mackey (tight end, Baltimore Colts,1963-71; San Diego Chargers, 1972); John Riggins (running back, New York Jets,1971-75; Washington Redskins, 1976-79; 1981-85)

Exhibition game: New York Jets vs. Philadelphia Eagles, 3 p.m. (channels13, 7).

Induction ceremonies: To be shown at halftime of Jets-Eagles game.

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