A question and answer session with John Mackey, former great Baltimore Colts tight end and past president of the NFL Players Association, who next month will be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame:
Question: Why do you suppose it has taken you until now to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
Answer: "It's mainly because I couldn't vote for myself. If I could have, I probably would have been in there a lot sooner. I've heard so many rumors as to why I wasn't in, and I don't really know what kept me out. But I'm in now, and I never look back. I always look forward. It seems as though every time I've done anything, I've always had obstacles to overcome. It's just another obstacle. It was beyond my control. And what I've found is that with those things that you can control, if you just stick to your guns and never give up, hey, you'll find a way to the end zone."
Q: Don't you have any bitterness at all over being left out for so long?
A: "No, I don't have any bitterness. I don't have any bitterness whatsoever. I have received fan mail over the years, asking me why. And of course, I couldn't answer. But I have absolutely no bitterness."
Q: What is the likelihood that you were blackballed because of your role in the NFL's labor problems?
A: "Well, there have been rumors that I was, but I don't really know. I didn't try to figure out the process or do any investigation of what was going on. All I figured was that you play the game to the best of your ability; and when it's over, someone has to make a determination as to whether or not it was good enough. I didn't even know what the criteria was. I tell you how naive I was. I had no idea that this was the last year before they put me on another list. I didn't know that."
Q: Why did you choose Jack Kemp to present you at the ceremony Aug. 1 in Canton, Ohio? [Mackey also will be presented his Hall of Fame ring in Baltimore Aug. 26 at an exhibition game between Miami and New Orleans.]
A: "Jack is a personal friend, and our friendship started outside of football. When I became president of the players association, Jack was one of the guys who backed me. We've been friends on and off the field for years. Jack was with me when I found out I was going to be inducted. The thing I like about Jack is that he is a person who has always been color blind. That's something most athletes learn when they're playing in the National Football League. Both of us feel the same way. In order for this country to really become as great a team as it is going to become, everybody has to be included. Jack is special."
Q: Why are you and Mike Ditka the only tight ends in the Hall of Fame?
A: "I don't know, other than that it became kind of an embarrassment that I wasn't in. I think you're going to see more tight ends going in now. I know a number of guys had called me and said, 'John, even if they ask us, we're not going to go in until you're in.' Guys like Kellen Winslow and Todd Christensen. It was an honor to have guys like that say, 'Hey, Mack, look, we're going to wait 'til you go in. If we're considered, we're not going until you go.' That was real nice."
Q: How much do today's tight ends owe you for the way you shaped the position?
A: "They don't owe me anything. I don't look at it like that. I didn't know tight ends were not supposed to go deep. That's why I ran deep. I saw Jimmy Orr go deep and I saw Raymond Berry go deep. Jimmy and Raymond said to me, 'Whenever [John] Unitas is in the huddle and he looks at you, have a play ready.' I knew one play: Go deep. So consequently, when I was playing, it was never in my mind that I was revolutionizing the position or anything like that. I just thought it was just a natural thing. I played with Unitas, and Unitas would come to me if I was open."
Q: How much do today's players owe you for the way you shaped the league's labor relations?
A: "I don't take any credit for that. I don't believe anybody owes anybody anything. I think today's players will do what they have to do to help those players that are ahead of them, just like it was my responsibility at that particular time to do what I thought was right. I was doing the right thing for those people I represented. It wasn't because I thought that down the road, history would portray me a certain way. So I don't think they owe me anything. I think they owe the next generation."
Q: Do people remember you more for your football or for your role in the league's labor situation?
A: "I think most people will remember me as a football player. They haven't forgotten that I was involved in the labor relations. I think near the end of my career, my role with the players association started to overshadow the football. But when people look back at the film and see me running over somebody in the '60s, they don't see anything written across my back that says I was president of the NFL Players Association."
Q: How successful would the way you played in the '60s be in today's game?