Another Hall class leaves Mackey, Davis sitting in corner

January 28, 1991|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Evening Sun Staff

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Pro Football Hall of Fame couldn't avoid controversy when it anointed its Class of '91 Saturday.

It was a red-letter day for old place-kickers, pulling guards, battering-ram running backs and innovators.

But it was a thumbs-down day for two former adversaries of the National Football League.

Conspicuous from the list of the Hall's five newest members were former Baltimore Colts tight end John Mackey, who founded the players union in 1970, and Al Davis, the maverick owner of the Los Angeles Raiders.

Even as former Kansas City coach Hank Stram celebrated the acknowledgment of Jan Stenerud's kicking career, he appeared puzzled over the rejection of both Mackey and Davis.

"I thought for a long time Mackey was in it [the Hall of Fame]," said Stram, who does NFL broadcasts on CBS Radio now. "There's no reason in the world why he shouldn't be in. He epitomized what the tight end was all about. I think he magnified the importance of the position of tight end in football.

"I can't see any reason at all he isn't in. The same is true of Al Davis. I know Al Davis belongs in. It isn't a question of if he gets in. The question is when he gets in."

The five players voted into the Hall of Fame were Earl Campbell, a three-time league MVP with the Houston Oilers; John Hannah, who played in eight Pro Bowls for the New England Patriots as a pulling guard; Tex Schramm, an innovator who guided the Dallas Cowboys in their glory years; Stan Jones, a former Maryland lineman who played offense and defense for the Chicago Bears in 1962; and Stenerud, the first kicker who played only that position to make it.

Voting was done by 29 members of the Hall's 31-man board of selectors. It is the voting process that has come under recent scrutiny.

Stram declined to speculate about politics of the vote, but Don Smith, vice president for the Hall of Fame, defended the process and the people involved.

"A lot of people say politics get a guy in or out," Smith said. "But these are very objective people. Just because a person voices an opinion pro or con doesn't mean he's biased or politically motivated. [Former NFL commissioner] Pete Rozelle was eligible eight years and on the list eight years before he was elected."

Mackey played with the Colts from 1963 to 1971 in a 10-year career that ended in 1972 with the San Diego Chargers. He was a second-round draft choice out of Syracuse in 1963, and made the first of five Pro Bowls as a rookie. He was regarded a prototypical tight end who was most dangerous with the ball. Yet it has been reported that Mackey's activities in forming the NFL Players Association in 1970 have worked against him.

Mackey was traveling and unavailable to comment. His wife Sylvia, however, said she was "devastated" by the most recent rejection.

"I don't think any kind of union activity should figure in," she said. "But we all know these things happen."

The Baltimore Sun twice has reported that Evening Sun columnist John Steadman, a member of the board of selectors, has argued against Mackey's induction.

Smith refuted the charge that Steadman is responsible for blocking Mackey.

"A lot of people say John Steadman kept John Mackey out of the Hall of Fame," Smith said. "That's a bum rap on him. We've discussed the situation, talked about the pros and cons. The fact Mackey made the final six, it just doesn't stand to reason that one man kept him out."

Mackey has been eligible for the Hall of Fame 14 years. Four times he has been in the final 15. This year, for the first time, he made the final six. In 1969, Mackey was voted to the NFL's All 50-Year team by the Hall's board of selectors.

Steadman, who voted against Mackey a year ago, voted for him Saturday.

Said Steadman, "At the same time in the room, it was pointed out by another selector that of the 11 pass catchers who are in the Hall of Fame, that Mackey's numbers for catches, yards and touchdowns were lower than any of them, including Mike Ditka and Pete Pihos and Tom Fears, and the last two played 40 years ago."

Ditka is the only tight end in the Hall. He played 12 years in the NFL. In two fewer seasons than Ditka, Mackey had 96 fewer catches, 576 fewer yards and five fewer touchdowns than the former Bears great.

Mackey's totals of 331 catches and 5,236 yards are lower than any current Hall of Fame pass catcher. His 38 TDs match Fears' total.

Sylvia Mackey said that in analyzing her husband's statistics, the board needs to consider what kind of teams he played on and how his contribution helped other players.

Mackey, who missed only one game in 10 seasons, played in two NFL and two AFC championship games, including Super Bowls III and V.

He automatically will be placed on the list of 15 finalists for next year's balloting. In 1993, he will become a seniors nominee for the Hall of Fame. Stan Jones was a seniors candidate this year.

The seniors nominees are reviewed by a smaller board of five people. Of the 19 senior players who have been nominated, 13 have been voted into the Hall, including Doak Walker, George Musso and Bob St. Clair.

Like Mackey, Al Davis made the final six for the first time this year. Davis rose from personnel assistant to coach to ultimately own the Oakland Raiders. Although the team won three Super Bowls, Davis is best known for his long legal battle with Rozelle to move the Raiders to Los Angeles, which he did in 1982.

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