"He had a vision for that job, which was more than just putting in time and keeping the natives calm. You don't get anything unless you really rattle the cage."
Mr. Mackey's legacy can be found in the multimillion-dollar contracts NFL players enjoy, said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens general manager.
"All of the benefits of today's players come from the foundation laid by John Mackey," said Mr. Newsome, himself a Hall of Fame tight end. "He took risks. He stepped out. He was willing to be different."
"John Mackey was one of the great leaders in NFL history, on and off the field," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. "He was a Hall of Fame player who redefined the tight end position. He was a courageous advocate for his fellow NFL players as head of the NFL Players Association. He worked closely with our office on many issues through the years, including serving as the first president of the NFL Youth Football Fund. He never stopped fighting the good fight."
Off the field, Mr. Mackey drove a Bentley. He emceed a concert by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. He did a weekly sports report on WJZ-TV and served as sports director of WEBB radio. He starred in a CBS quiz show, "Alumni Fun," as a member of the Syracuse University team. He published an autobiography, "Blazing Trails."
"John was an elegant guy, from his vocabulary to the way he conducted himself in public," Mr. Vogel said. "He enhanced the image of athletes. He raised the bar."
Mr. Mackey is survived by his wife, Sylvia, of Baltimore; a son, John Kevin Mackey, of Atlanta; two daughters, Lisa Mackey Hazel of Bowie and Laura Mackey Nattans of Baltimore; and six grandchildren.
The family will be receiving friends from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. July 15 at the Burgee-Henss-Seitz Funeral Home, 3631 Falls Road. Plans for an August memorial service are pending.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Association For Frontotemporal Degeneration, Radnor Station Building 2, Suite 320, 290 King Of Prussia Road, Radnor, Pa. 19087, or to the Sports Legacy Institute, P.O. Box 181225, Boston, Mass. 02118.
Baltimore Sun researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.