Former Colts great Mackey passes away (updated with Ravens’ statement)

One of the greatest tight ends to ever play the game of football, John Mackey, has passed away at the age of 69. Mackey died Wednesday night.

The former Baltimore Colts star revolutionized the tight end role in the 1960s, bringing athleticism, speed and pass catching ability to a position that previously was mostly an extension of the offensive line. Mackey had such speed, in fact, that the Colts had him return kickoffs at one point in his career.

Mackey posted 38 touchdown catches in his Hall of Fame career, and averaged over 20 yards-per-catch in two separate seasons, which was unheard of from a tight end at that time.

The No. 19 overall pick in 1963, Mackey played 10 years in the NFL (nine with the Colts), and appeared in five Pro Bowls. He was a member of the Colts’ 1971 Super Bowl team, and made one of the most famous catches in Super Bowl history, catching a deflected pass and taking it 75 yards for a touchdown.

After retiring, Mackey became the first president of the NFLPA. He was influential in bringing free agency to the game, and fought to bring players benefits and pensions.

In recent years, he suffered from dementia, and was forced to live in a full-time assisted living facility.

Mackey is survived by his wife Sylvia, son John, daughters Lisa and Laura, and six grandchildren.

“We are tremendously saddened to hear about the passing of John Mackey, and our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Sylvia and the entire Mackey family,” Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said in a statement. “I was fortunate to get to know John and Sylvia personally, and I was struck by her love and loyalty throughout the difficult times of his illness. John set the standard by which tight ends are measured on the field, and he will be sorely missed not only by his family, but also by the entire Baltimore community.”

“I am mourning the loss of John Mackey, and my deepest condolences go out to his wife Sylvia and the Mackey family,” Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. “John revolutionized the tight end position during his Hall of Fame career, and he laid the foundation on and off the field for modern NFL players.”

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