We lost arguably the best tight end in NFL history with the passing of John Mackey at the age of 69. His accomplishments have left a rippling effect both on and off the field, and in some cases a tidal wave that will be remembered forever.
When I was a guest on the Bernie Miklasz show on Thursday, we paid tribute to the late, great Mackey. We told stories of Bernie’s childhood and him watching this great player. We gave statistics along with comparisons and I was asked to name other tight ends that are close or in the same category as Mackey, and I replied Raymond Berry (who is listed as both a receiver and as a tight end), Shannon Sharpe and Tony Gonzalez. Driving home from the studio, other names kept popping into my head like Ozzie Newsome, Kellen Winslow, Mike Ditka, Jay Novacek, Frank Wycheck, Jason Witten and Charle Young. This list is of some outstanding football players and not all of them are or will be Hall of Famers, just players that I remember watching growing up as a kid (and today as well).
When researching Mackey, I found that he was born in Queens, New York, in 1941, and played his college football at Syracuse. He was drafted in 1963 by both the NFL’s (National Football League) Baltimore Colts (second round 19th overall) and the AFL’s (American Football League) New York Jets (fifth round, 35th overall). A Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist for 12 years, he was finally inducted into the Hall in 1992. He was a five-time Pro-Bowler and three-time All-Pro tight end. He was also named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team and 50th Anniversary team.
When breaking down the position, I made three categories of tight ends. They are: TE (total package blocking and receiving), TEA (athletic tight end with skill set best suited as receiver and falls short as a blocker) and TEB (limited receiver skill set and excels as a dominating blocker).
John “Mack Truck” Mackey was the complete package and set the bar extremely high for all who followed him at the position. When you look at his stats, the first thing that jumps out at you is the 15.8 yards per catch average, with a long of 89 yards. A dominating blocker for his size (6-2, 225), he was known for his tremendous speed and power and returned kickoffs as a rookie with a 30.1-yard average.
A prestigious collegiate award was named after this great tight end, the John Mackey Award. It was established in 2001 and is given annually to the most outstanding tight end in college football. The award is given for outstanding athletic prowess on the field and positive sportsmanship, excellent behavior, good academics and exceptional leadership qualities, all of which he stood for.
From many sources, he was a man of great pride, exceptional intelligence, loved people and was a very caring person believing in what is right, and fighting for it. He became the first president of the NFL Players Association and organized and achieved improvements for players by suing the league for player rights through free agency, pension benefits and injury protection programs (now reaped by all NFL players).
There is the “88 Plan” dementia benefit. This program was named after the great Mackey, who suffered from the disease. The “88 Plan” is the first program of its kind in this country. It provides retired NFL players up to $88,000 per year for medical and private custodial care resulting from this brain-crippling disease (this also includes Alzheimer’s). Funding for dementia and brain trauma research is also being provided. More than $7 million has been distributed to suffering players and their families through this benefit since its inception in 2007.
In 2008, the NFL Alliance, comprised of the NFL, NFL Players Association, Pro Football Hall of Fame and NFL Alumni Association, developed several improvements to the NFL disability benefits program as part of the Alliance’s commitment in addressing the medical and disability needs of retired NFL players and their families. This included, according to NFLPA Player Care data:
1. A doubling of the minimum post-career, non-football “total and permanent” disability benefit from $20,000 to $40,000 per year for retired players who become disabled unrelated to football. Players would otherwise receive the full amount of their pension, if greater.
2. Players who took their NFL pension early, and are therefore ineligible to apply for and receive disability benefits, will be offered a new one-time opportunity to apply for total and permanent disability benefits. These players may establish their disability through either a medical examination or by a total and permanent disability determination from Social Security. The opportunity to apply for benefits began on April 1, 2008 and applications were accepted through July 31, 2008.
3. Players who have received a total and permanent disability determination from Social Security will not need to separately establish disability under the NFL plan. Players who were denied benefits under the NFL plan but have subsequently been found disabled by Social Security may have their NFL cases reconsidered. The other good news for retired NFL players is that NFL disability awards are not offset by the amount of any award paid by Social Security.
4. The time within which to apply for line of duty disability benefits has been lengthened from the current 48-month period to 48 months or the player’s actual number of credited seasons. For example, a 10-year veteran would have 10, rather than, as previously, four years, to apply for this benefit.
The current (and longest) NFL labor dispute in NFL history is now well past 100 days. Despite a deal being seemingly close (the ball being in the “red zone”), it is unclear who has the ball and how close it is to the goal line.
The following are the possible issues that both sides are struggling with when it comes to splitting revenue and determining the percentage each will contribute for retired players:
Player Care and Disability Benefits: Joint Replacement Surgery and Rehabilitation, Health Screening, Prostate Cancer Screening, Spine Treatment, Neurological Care/Research, Assisted Living arrangements, Prescription Drug Care, Partial Disability Benefits, T&P Benefits (total and permanent).
Other Issues: Line of Duty Benefits/Eligibility, Tripled Widow and Surviving Children Benefits, Social Security Disability Benefits, Medicine/Supplement Benefits.
The bottom line issue is again revenue split and really, the defining of all revenues. One of the major issues on the table has to do with the retired players. The current lawsuit led by plaintiff Tom Brady and nine other current players against the owners addresses retirement. But is that for the current players moving into retirement or those already in retirement? I agree that the current retired players should not be included in the Brady vs. NFL lawsuit. I do believe both the owners and current players when finalizing a new CBA, in the area of Disability Benefits, Pension/Financial Assistance and Player Care should encompass the players who paved the way for today’s players in what I consider the greatest team sport on the planet.
Sylvia Mackey, the wife of John for 40-plus years, will donate his brain to the Boston University School of Science & Medicine.