Tom Mack, former Michigan Wolverine and NFL Hall of Famer, was recently selected as a "Hometown Hall of Famer" presented by Allstate.
Mack was a number two overall pick in the 1965 NFL Draft selected by the Los Angeles Rams. Where he went on the play for his entire 13-year NFL career. Mack is prominently known for being an ironman, starting in 184-straight starts. He is also an 11-time Pro Bowler.
I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to speak with him.
TBHR: First of all, congratulations on your Hometown
Hall of Famer honor. What does that title mean to you and your hometown of
Mack: Actually, it's an interesting thing because AllState actually ended up working with the Hall of Fame and will do this for each and every inductee over a period of four years, by trying to do about 50 of these a year. To me, it's very flattering. I grew up and went all the way through school in the Cleveland Heights, which is a suburb of Cleveland Ohio. After school, I went North to the University of Michigan and spent five years there to get a degree in engineering. The irony of it all, I never really thought much about playing professional football. The goal at the time was to get the best education that I could and I had the vehicle of having an athletic scholarship to be able to do that. So that's why I came to Michigan.
Let’s talk a little bit about your career with the University of Michigan. What, in your opinion, is your fondest memory?
Mack: Probably the spring of my Sophomore year, Bump Elliott (head coach) came up to me and asked me if I had any interest in being a tackle instead of an end. I was an end starting out, we had to play both ways (offense and defense). I guess I call that moment the big break of my life, I told him candidly "I'll do anything if I get to play". At that point I'd been on the bench for two years, you couldn't play your Freshman year and didn't get a letter the next year. When they gave me an opportunity to play offensive tackle I just jumped at it and it turned my whole experience in terms of football around. The next year, we won the Big Ten and won the Rose Bowl. I went from the basement to the penthouse in a matter of months (laughs).
TBHR: A lot of people seem to forget about your head coach at the University of Michigan, Bump Elliott, as he was sandwiched between the likes of Crisler, Oosterbaan, and Schembechler. What was it like to play for Coach Elliott?
Mack: Bump Elliott and his entire staff were very classy people. They made you feel like you were one of their kids, more than one of their players. At least that's what I thought about them. Some of them went on to coach professionally and some of them ended up coaching at other colleges and did very well over a period of time. Bump was a guy that took the time to care about the kids, at the time Michigan was competing with North Western and Wisconsin in trying to be an elitist school. Which set their academic standards higher, which was another attractive thing about the University of Michigan.
TBHR: Considering you're from Ohio, and the rivalry between Ohio State and Michigan runs thick, what made you decide to come to Michigan?
Mack: Probably the first thing was the lack of interest by any school in the state of Ohio (laughs). Ohio State didn't bother to give me a call to ask if I was interested. I had some chances to go to some Ivy League schools, and they're attitudes were if you wanted to play we'd love to have you play, but if you're academic load is too high you don't have to next fall. My reaction to that was, I couldn't imagine it being very good (laughs). About 13 of us (players from the state of Ohio) ended up coming to the University of Michigan and played on the 1964 team.
Moving forward to your NFL career, you had a streak of 184-straight games played. Considering you were playing in an era of insufficient padding and the daily beating of your position, how did you manage to stay healthy and be so successful?
Mack: (laughs) I guess I'd tell you one of the things you had to be, and I'm sure it's that way today, and that was extremely lucky. You had to be in good shape, and you had to avoid the critical hit that could take you out for the year or even a game. When I walked away from football, I was 35 years old and I went off to another career as an engineer. But I really thought I survived and was in remarkably good health. Recently, within the last seven to eight years, I've had about seven or eight operations (laughs). I've had both knees replaced and a bunch of other stuff. I guess I beat myself up more than I thought I did, but with quick feet and being lucky I survived pretty well when I was playing football.
TBHR: You also spent your entire career with the Los Angeles Rams, compared to
modern-day sports where players seem to not have allegiance to their
team when it’s time to renew their contract, what made you want to stay a
Ram throughout your entire career in the NFL?
Mack: It's a long time ago now, but in that period of time and especially in the last seven years that I played, we were division champs every time and we played in four conference championship games. We always were and close and always had great teams, but we just couldn't seem to get over the hump. But when you play the game, it's no different than playing at a collegiate or high school level. You want to be apart of a team that can compete for a championship if at all possible. I was lucky enough to stay in Los Angeles over that period of time and played with two different groups that stuck together.
TBHR: You’re a NFL Hall of Famer, All-American, and
Pro Bowler. With all of these honors, would you trade any of it for a chance at
a Super Bowl ring?
Mack: (laughs) The only reason you play the game is to win. I know that sounds pretty vein, I guess. But, it's a team sport and you want to be associated with the best players and you want to win a championship. To answer your question, I would've loved and been honored to be able to win that championship. Yeah, I would probably throw away a couple of Pro Bowl's pretty quick (laughs). I got pretty spoiled, I was very lucky to be able to play in 11 of them. I've got a couple of extras I'd give away for a championship.
TBHR: Finally, I'm not sure how closely you follow Michigan football, but how do you think Michigan is going to against State on Saturday? Do you think they are going to exorcise that demon?
Mack: The good news is, I'm going to be there to watch them, so I hope so (laughs). My wife and I try to go to at least one game a year. I have a daughter and her family that live in Saline, Michigan. Michigan will always remain close to my heart. I think they have great coaching and they have done a really good job of putting great personnel together. I'm picking Michigan. To exorcise the demon, so to speak (laughs). It's a hard run when you lose to a rival more than once or twice. When you've lost four of them, it really eats at you. I know they had the same feeling with Ohio State. You just can't imagine how important those games are and the kids will be all excited. The hard part will come down to some good breaks early in the game. If we get the momentum, it's a lot easier. If we don't get the momentum, then you really have to dig hard and stay after it. I figure either way they have to come out ahead. They certainly have a good looking team and I know they are very well coached.