Gold Jacket Spotlight: Tom Mack's 'Good Gig' on Offensive Live

Gold Jacket Spotlight: Tom Mack's 'Good Gig' on Offensive Live

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Several members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame went through college – and for some, as early as high school – with the label “Can’t Miss.”

For Tom Mack, the tag in his teenage years would have been much more critical.

“Can’t Catch.”

Tom was anything but a high school phenom, and his first two years at the University of Michigan also were nondescript. “I was the fourth guy on the third string and never got a letter my sophomore year,” he said during a return visit to Ann Arbor a few years ago for a program in conjunction with the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Yet, in keeping with his high school coaches’ prediction – “You’ll love this kid by his junior year,” they told UM’s coaches – Tom blossomed exactly on that timeline.

His transformation from average high schooler to first-team All-Big Ten selection in college to recipient of a Bronzed Bust in Canton is recalled this week in the Gold Jacket Spotlight.

A position change would play a huge role.

Tom had played receiver at Cleveland Heights High School but never caught a touchdown pass. His lone touchdown came when a teammate blocked a punt and Tom fell on the ball in the end zone.

“I wasn’t exactly a spectacular receiver,” he said in recalling his high school career.

He was, however, spectacular in the classroom, and his grades, work ethic and coaches’ endorsement helped convince the Michigan staff to offer him a scholarship – the only major college to do so.

His first two seasons, playing offensive and defensive end, were rough.

“I was not a particularly great football player,” Tom reflected. “Back then we had to play both ways, and I have about 20/400 -500 vision, which means you’re blind.” (Side note: Tom recently underwent successful eye surgery through Hall of Fame Health and can see without glasses for the first time since age 9.)

“I was an end, and when they’d throw me the ball, I had to listen for it. And, believe it or not, you could hear the ball – first the whizz when it goes by, then the thud when it hits the ground.”

A funny line now, but at the time Tom’s playing days seemed numbered. Then the “greatest thing that happened” to him involving football occurred.

“An assistant coach, a fellow named Tony Mason, came and asked me, ‘Do you want to be a tackle?’ … And the end result was they made me a tackle, which turned out to be a pretty good gig.”

Now well over 200 pounds while retaining the speed of an end, Tom flourished.

As a junior, he started seven games at right tackle and won the Meyer Morton Award – given to the player deemed most improved in spring drills – for the 1964 Wolverines, who rolled to a 9-1 record, the school’s first Big Ten Title in 15 seasons and a Rose Bowl victory.

Tom continued to excel as a senior, and by the time the AFL and NFL drafts approached, coaches from both leagues targeted him.

The Los Angeles Rams selected Tom with the second overall pick of the 1966 NFL Draft.

A few games into his rookie season, Tom became a starter at guard. He never missed a game in his 13-year NFL career – 184 consecutive appearances (176 starts) in the regular season. He was selected to play in 11 Pro Bowls.

Years later, at a high school reunion, a former high school teammate pulled Tom aside and asked, “When did you get good?”

Tom called it “the nicest compliment anyone’s ever paid me.”

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