MINNEAPOLIS—An autograph-seeker approached John Mackey, the 10th former Baltimore Colt to achieve the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He obliged, adding his jersey number, 88, and a team identity -- Colts.
The youngster said he regretted the Colts had such a bad year. Mackey quickly took the paper and, not wanting to be confused with Indianapolis, emphatically wrote Baltimore in front of Colts. It was a significant move by Mackey, who along with his wife, Sylvia, is all aglow over the Hall of Fame acceptance.
"It never bothered me I wasn't elected sooner," Mackey said at a Super Bowl party hosted by Kemp at the prestigious Minneapolis Club. "I only knew what I had done on the field and the Hall of Fame was out of my control."
Mackey heard the news Saturday when he called his hotel operator for messages. He was told, "You have been 'indicted' by the Hall of Fame." Enjoying the inadvertent humor, Mackey next told his son he has been "abducted" by the Hall of Fame.
That it took Mackey 15 years, five as a finalist, to attain the honor is similar to Paul Hornung of the Green Bay Packers, who had a comparable wait before gaining entry. Mackey spent three years in the final countdown, which clearly indicated "his time" for election was at hand.
"I'm glad Mackey got in," said George Young, general manager of the New York Giants. "It now puts an end to the talk he was passed over because of his ties to the labor movement. You can think what you want of him as a player, but don't let anyone tell you his part in the union had anything to do with not getting enough votes."
Mackey, in nine Colts seasons, established himself as a superb tight end, an awesome blocker and extraordinary runner after he got the ball. His only shortcoming was that he was not considered a sure-handed receiver. But that negative is put away now that the Hall of Fame has knighted him.
Other Baltimore players to receive the game's highest honor -- enshrinement in the Hall -- are Art Donovan, Gino Marchetti, Jim Parker, Raymond Berry, Lenny Moore, John Unitas, Y.A. Tittle, Ted Hendricks, and Joe Perry, plus coach Weeb Ewbank.
Marchetti, Parker, Berry and Unitas entered in their first year of eligibility. What about future Colts, now that Mackey has made football's most illustrious team? Maybe linebacker Mike Curtis and defensive back Bobby Boyd will be the next Colts, but it may be a struggle because the talent pool has widened with 28 NFL teams, and more players being nominated all the time.
This year's original master list started at 66, was pared to 15, then 10, six and, finally, the four winning recipients: Lem Barney of the Detroit Lions, John Riggins of the Washington Redskins, Al Davis of the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders and Mackey.
With 31 selectors present for the voting process, it was necessary for 24, or 80 percent, to approve. Seven negative votes meant elimination. As mentioned, it took Hornung 15 years to make the grade.
Bob St. Clair and Arnie Weinmeister waited 22 years, Frank "Gunner" Gatski 23 years, Doak Walker 24. Willie Woods, Len Ford and Dante Lavelli were 13 years in waiting; Pete Pihos, Doug Atkins, Sam Huff and retired commissioner Pete Rozelle eight years.
With the Veterans' Committee, the late Willie Galimore, halfback of the Chicago Bears, was a 1992 nominee. He failed to qualify before the full jury and it is doubtful his name will be brought back again for scrutiny.
In seven of 19 years, the Veterans' Committee choice was rejected. And no veteran pick has ever been recycled a second time around. Leading the overall ballot next year will be two finalists who didn't score enough votes -- guard Tom Mack of the Los Angeles Rams and receiver Charlie Joiner of the Houston Oilers, Cincinnati Bengals and San Diego Chargers.
Controversy came out of the meeting when an informal survey conducted by a West Coast reporter showed a minimum of eight of the 31 selectors said they did not vote for Davis, the Raiders' owner whose first job in pro football, part-time, was with the Colts.
The Hall of Fame board of directors has a clause that a minimum of four nominees must be endorsed each year. If sufficient votes aren't there to qualify a fourth inductee then the election of the candidate with the next highest number of votes in the balloting is included.
So it is believed, but not confirmed, because the Hall of Fame does not reveal vote counts, that Davis was the benefactor of a ground rule that in all probability has never been used in the past.