BALTIMORE — John Mackey revolutionized the tight end position, his incomparable ability to catch passes off the line of scrimmage helping to usher the NFL into the pass-happy modern era.
After his retirement, Mackey remained on the forefront of change in professional football. He pushed for better health care and championed the cause of former players, even as he battled the dementia that ultimately forced him into an assisted-living facility.
The Hall of Famer for the Baltimore Colts died at age 69. Mackey's wife notified the team about her husband's death, Ravens spokesman Chad Steele said Thursday. No cause was given.
"John Mackey was one of the great leaders in NFL history, on and off the field," Commissioner Roger Goodell said.
Mackey played for the Colts from 1963-71, during a time when tight ends were viewed as additional offensive tackles. His breakaway speed, soft hands and bruising running made him difficult to cover, giving Johnny Unitas another top target in the passing game.
Together, they helped the Colts beat the Dallas Cowboys in the 1971 Super Bowl by connecting on a pass after it deflected off two other players for a 75-yard touchdown. Mackey also played for the San Diego Chargers in 1972, and he finished his 10-year career with 331 catches for 5,236 yards and 38 TDs.
His efforts after his playing days were just as important as his performance on the field.
An NFL labor agreement ratified in 2006 includes the "88 Plan," named for Mackey's number. The plan provides up to $88,000 a year for nursing care or day care for former players with dementia or Alzheimer's disease, or $50,000 for home care.
Mackey suffered from frontotemporal dementia that is believed to have been caused by the contact associated with playing football. The costs associated with his care, which far outpaced Mackey's pension, led the push toward better health care for former players.
Mackey was drafted in 1963 out of Syracuse — twice, actually. He was selected by the NFL's Colts in the second round and the rival AFL's New York Jets in the fifth round.
He wound up playing for the Colts just as the passing game was taking on a major role in pro football. His size, speed and ability to catch the ball while also blocking in the running game made him the prototype for future generations of tight ends.
Veteran QB Collins retires
NASHVILLE — Quarterback Kerry Collins is retiring from the NFL after 16 seasons in the league, his agent announced Thursday.
Collins, 38, was facing free agency after his contract expired in March, though he said as recently as last month that he still wanted to play. Tennessee has said it plans to trade or release quarterback Vince Young after the NFL lockout ends, which would leave just this year's eighth overall draft pick, Jake Locker, and Rusty Smith, a sixth-round pick in last year's draft, on the roster at the position.
In 195 career games, Collins maintained a 55.8 completion percentage and threw for 40,441 yards, 206 touchdowns and 195 interceptions. He made a Super Bowl appearance with the Giants in the 2000 season.
Sides meet for 10 hours
NEW YORK — NFL team owners and players' association leaders met for another long negotiating session Thursday, hoping to finally break the labor lockout that has now lasted more than 16 weeks. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA chief DeMaurice Smith joined in the sixth set of recent talks, which went for more than 10 hours.