While the position of fullback is generally considered of limited importance in today’s NFL, such was not always the case.
Mack had the qualities associated with being a Pro Bowl fullback.
Playing at 230 to 235 pounds, Mack ran with power earning the nickname, “Mack Truck”.
He also probably had more speed and agility than your typical fullback.
Mack also was an excellent blocker and had soft hands to catch passes out of the backfield.
We take a look at the life of Kevin Mack – before, during, and after his Cleveland Browns career.
The Early Years Through High School
James Kevin Mack was born on August 9, 1962 in Kings Mountain, North Carolina.
Kings Mountain is located about 30 miles west of Charlotte, North Carolina.
During Mack’s childhood, Kings Mountain had a population of approximately 8,000 to 9,000 people.
Mack recalls that he first started playing football in Pop Warner games when he was 11 or 12 years old and played Pop Warner football for two or three years.
Mack’s Pop Warner coach taught Mack to have fun when playing football.
Mack recalls having fun playing Pop Warner football because it was easy for him to outrun everybody else on the field.
Kings Mountain High School
Mack attended Kings Mountain High School.
Despite his Pop Warner football success, initially in high school, Mack was more interested in track competitions than in playing football.
Mack was a successful sprinter, both in junior high school and high school, including that he ran a 4.4 time in the 40-yard dash.
“I was in track mode before my sister and my high school football coach got me to think differently. And the rest, as they say, is history”.
Mack played football for two years at Kings Mountain High School in 1978 and 1979.
In these two years combined, Mack ran for over 2,000 yards.
Mack especially excelled as a senior in 1979.
He ran for 1,585 yards in 10 games and helped Kings Mountain High School post an 8-2 record and advance to the conference championship game where it narrowly lost 15-12 to the eventual state champion, South Point High School.
For his performance, Mack was named “All-State” and played in the East-West All-Star Game.
Mack’s senior season at Kings Mountain High School attracted the attention of national college football programs.
Clemson University was probably the first major school to show interest in Mack.
Appreciating Clemson’s early interest in him, enjoying a visit there, and recognizing that other contemporary North Carolina football talent was heading to Clemson, South Carolina, Mack decided to attend Clemson University.
Mack played football four years at Clemson University.
In 1980, as a freshman, Mack played in seven games.
He rushed for 93 yards on 23 attempts and returned four kickoffs for 90 yards.
Clemson had a 6-5 record in 1980.
Clemson dramatically improved in 1981, with a 12-0 record, including a 22-15 victory over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl on January 1, 1982.
The Tigers ended the season ranked first in the nation in the final Associated Press poll.
In 1981, Mack played in all 12 games.
He rushed for 287 yards on 76 attempts, caught three passes for 23 yards, and returned two kickoffs for 45 yards.
Mack also scored his first two Clemson touchdowns in 1981.
Mack scored on an 11-yard run in a 21-3 Clemson victory over Kentucky on October 3, 1981 and on a 10-yard run in an 82-24 Clemson rout of Wake Forest on October 31, 1981.
Mack played in all 11 games for Clemson in 1982.
He rushed for 193 yards on 52 attempts and caught four passes for 40 yards.
Mack scored two additional rushing touchdowns in 1982.
Clemson had another excellent season in 1982, finishing with a 9-1-1 record and being ranked eighth in the nation in the final Associated Press poll.
However, on November 22, 1982, Clemson’s football program was placed on probation for recruiting violations.
Mack did not play in a bowl game his junior or senior years at Clemson.
Clemson again had a 9-1-1 record in 1983.
Clemson was ranked 11th in the nation in the final Associated Press poll.
Mack had his best college football season as a senior in 1983, again playing in all 11 games for the Tigers.
April 24th Clemson Historic Picture Of The Day: Clemson Vs. Georgia In 1983https://t.co/W7Vzj8vsmK
— Scott Rhymer (@TigerPreGame) April 24, 2020
At fullback, Mack was Clemson’s leading rusher in 1983, with 862 rushing yards (a record for most yards rushing by a Clemson fullback) in 151 attempts – an impressive 5.7 average yards per carry, which was third in the Atlantic Coast Conference in 1983.
Scoring eight rushing touchdowns, Mack was tied for the most rushing touchdowns in the Atlantic Coast Conference in 1983.
Mack also caught nine passes for 116 yards in 1983.
Mack was Honorable Mention All-American in 1983.
He also was MVP in the 1983 Blue-Gray All-Star Game.
His college career over, Mack moved on to professional football.
The Pro Football Years
1984 – USFL
Kevin Mack’s pro football career did not start in the NFL.
Instead, Mack first played professional football in the rival United States Football League (the “USFL”).
In 1984, Mack was drafted by the Washington Federals in the second USFL Territorial Draft.
However, probably because the Federals had financial problems and did not have enough money to sign him, Mack was traded during the USFL season on March 16, 1984 to the Los Angeles Express of the USFL.
Mack was attracted to the Express because of the money being offered him (a better contract than Mack thought he would get in the NFL), the opportunity to avoid the NFL draft, and the thrill of being able to play in Los Angeles, California.
Playing for the Express in 1984, Mack rushed for 330 yards on 73 carries.
He scored four rushing touchdowns, including a 71-yard touchdown run.
Mack also caught six passes for 38 yards and returned three kickoffs for 20 yards.
Mack helped the Express win the USFL’s Pacific Division of the Western Conference with a 10-8 record.
The Express then defeated the Michigan Panthers 27-21 (in a triple-overtime game) on June 30, 1984 in the USFL divisional playoff round, before losing to the Arizona Wranglers 35-23 on July 7, 1984 in the USFL Western Conference championship game.
1985 – AFC Rookie of the Year with the Browns
On June 5, 1984, the NFL held a special draft for college seniors who had already signed with either the USFL or the Canadian Football League.
This 1984 NFL Supplemental Draft was intended to avoid both teams “wasting” draft picks in the regular 1984 NFL draft on players who were already signed by another league and teams engaging in bidding wars for players if the USFL (in particular) or the Canadian Football League folded.
Every NFL team was given three picks in the 1984 NFL Supplemental Draft, but the Cleveland Browns wanted more picks.
The Browns traded their final four picks in the regular 1984 NFL draft for all three picks of the Chicago Bears in the 1984 NFL Supplemental Draft.
With the first of these three additional supplemental picks from the Bears, Cleveland drafted Mack (the 11th pick in the 1984 NFL Supplemental Draft).
In January 1985, in an effort to save money, the financially struggling Los Angeles Express waived Mack.
The Browns followed by quickly signing him.
Browns Head Coach Marty Schottenheimer was pleased with the signing of Mack.
“It’s a very good sign when a player is eager and ready to go. Kevin Mack knows he will have every opportunity to make this ballclub. He’s a hard-nosed runner, a guy that carries his weight well. I expect him to challenge for a spot on the roster”.
It is fair to say that Mack’s performance for the Browns in his first season in 1985 exceeded Coach Schottenheimer’s expectations.
In the first game of the regular season for the Browns, a 27-24 overtime loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, on September 8, 1985, Mack scored his first NFL touchdown on a 13-yard run.
On September 29, 1985, in a 21-7 Cleveland victory over the San Diego Chargers, Mack ran for 130 yards (including a 61-yard run) on 16 attempts and caught seven passes for 49 yards.
Mack also scored two touchdowns in the game – on a 10-yard run and on a 10-yard pass from Gary Danielson.
Mack had another outstanding game the following week when Mack scored the winning touchdown on a 10-yard run, as the Browns defeated the New England Patriots 24-20 on October 6, 1985.
Mack had 20 rushes for 115 yards and 5 receptions for 85 yards in the game and was voted AFC Offensive Player of the Week.
On November 24, 1985, Mack scored two touchdowns (on rushes of two yards and 35 yards) when the Browns defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 24-6.
In the game, Mack had 14 rushes for 117 yards.
For the 1985 season (regular season and playoff games), Mack rushed for 1,160 yards on 235 attempts (a 4.9 average yards per carry) and seven touchdowns and caught 29 passes for 297 yards and three touchdowns.
In 1985, Mack started 16 of 17 Browns regular season and playoff games at fullback.
Based on Mack’s performance in 1985, he won the AFC Rookie of the Year Award from United Press International.
Mack was invited to the Pro Bowl and named to the NFL All-Rookie Team by the Pro Football Writers of America.
Mack helped the Browns in 1985 win their first division title (the AFC Central Division) in five years with an 8-8 record, before losing to the Miami Dolphins in the divisional round of the playoffs 24-21 on January 4, 1986.
Mack had 56 rushing yards on 13 attempts in his first NFL playoff game.
Mack and Earnest Byner both rushed for over 1,000 yards in 1985.
— Kevin Gallagher (@KevG163) July 21, 2018
Only six times in NFL history (including Cleveland in 1985) has a team had two running backs both run for over 1,000 yards in a single NFL season.
In 1985 Cleveland Browns coached by Marty Schottenheimer won the AFC Central. Veteran Gary Danielson & rookie Bernie Kosar were the QBs. RBs Kevin Mack & Earnest Byner each rushed for over a 1000 yd. The beginning of several successful Browns seasons from 1986-1989 pic.twitter.com/aNi1SRJ7Vl
— Tom Brunswick (@tom_brunswick) June 5, 2020
1985 marked the beginning of a close relationship between the running backs, Mack and Byner.
“It’s like we were childhood friends, college roommates and business partners. Maybe even brothers”.
1986 – 1989 – From Nearly in the Super Bowl to Prison
While 1985 was likely Mack’s best NFL season, he had another solid season in 1986.
In the opening game of the regular season, Mack scored two touchdowns (on rushes of three yards and 14 yards), as the Browns lost to the Chicago Bears 41-31 on September 7, 1986.
In the game, Mack rushed for 50 yards on 10 attempts.
On November 16, 1986, Mack scored two touchdowns (on one-yard and two-yard rushes) in a 27-14 Cleveland loss to the Los Angeles Raiders.
Mack had eight rushes for 31 yards in the game.
Mack scored two touchdowns on two one-yard runs on December 7, 1986, as Cleveland defeated the Buffalo Bills 21-17.
Mack had 16 rushes for 65 yards in the game.
The following week, on December 14, 1986, Mack again scored two touchdowns on two one-yard runs, as Cleveland defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 34-3.
Mack rushed for 93 yards on 23 attempts.
The Browns won a second consecutive AFC Central division title in 1986 with a 12-4 regular season record and advanced to the playoffs.
— Vintage Browns (@VintageBrowns) November 8, 2018
In the divisional round, on January 3, 1987, the Browns defeated the New York Jets 23-20 in double overtime.
Mack played a critical role in the victory, rushing for 34 yards for the Browns during Cleveland’s game-winning drive.
For the game, Mack rushed for 63 yards on 20 carries, scoring on a one-yard touchdown run (his only playoff touchdown during his NFL career) and caught five passes for 51 yards.
Mack’s performance was even more impressive, considering that Mack had two teeth knocked out on the first play of the playoff game.
He played the whole game with the teeth wedged against his mouthpiece in his mouth (the doctor told him not to remove the mouthpiece), and a streak of blood down the middle of his uniform.
Mack had oral surgery after the game.
The Browns then played the Denver Broncos in the AFC championship game on January 11, 1987, but lost 23-20 in overtime, just missing a chance to play in the Super Bowl.
Mack had 94 rushing yards on 26 attempts and caught two passes for 20 yards, but lost a fumble, in the game.
For the 1986 season (playing 14 of 18 regular season and playoff games), Mack rushed for 822 yards on 220 attempts and scored 11 rushing touchdowns.
He also caught 35 passes for 363 yards.
In 1987, Mack had another very good season.
— Dawgs Of Glory (@dawgs_of_glory) August 24, 2018
On November 22, 1987, Mack rushed for 114 yards on 26 carries and scored on a five-yard touchdown run, as the Browns routed the Houston Oilers 40-7.
In a 38-24 Cleveland win over the Cincinnati Bengals on December 13, 1987, Mack had 133 rushing yards on 27 attempts and scored on a 22-yard run.
In addition, Mack caught a two-yard touchdown pass from Bernie Kosar.
In 1987, the Browns won a third consecutive AFC Central division title with a 10-5 regular-season record.
After defeating the Indianapolis Colts 38-21 in the divisional round of the playoffs on January 9, 1988, the Browns returned to the AFC championship game for a rematch with the Denver Broncos on January 17, 1988.
Mack and the Browns again just missed playing in the Super Bowl, losing to the Broncos 38-33.
Mack rushed for 61 yards on 12 attempts and caught four passes for 28 yards in the game.
While the 1987 AFC championship game is often referred to as “The Fumble” because of a key fumble by Earnest Byner, Mack also had a fumble in the championship game (his second fumble in two consecutive championship games against the Broncos).
For his performance in 1987, Mack was invited to his second Pro Bowl.
For the season (playing 14 of 17 regular season and playoff games), Mack rushed for 834 yards on 219 attempts, caught 39 passes for 268 yards, and scored six touchdowns (five rushing and one receiving).
In 1988, while Mack’s statistics declined from his first three seasons with the Browns, he still had some good individual games.
On October 16, 1988, Mack had 100 rushing yards in 16 attempts, including a 65-yard run (the longest run of Mack’s NFL career), as the Browns defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 19-3.
In a 17-13 Cleveland win over the Washington Redskins on November 27, 1988, Mack rushed for 116 yards on 22 attempts (and scored on a one-yard touchdown run).
In 1988, the Browns finished with a 10-6 record in the regular season and played in the wildcard playoff game against the Houston Oilers on December 24, 1988.
Cleveland lost to the Oilers 24-23.
For the 1988 season (playing 12 of 17 regular season and playoff games), Mack rushed for 499 yards on 135 attempts, scored three rushing touchdowns, and caught 12 passes for 93 yards.
Mack’s NFL’s career was put on hold on June 28, 1989 when he was arrested in Cleveland on cocaine possession and other criminal charges.
On October 3, 1989, Mack pled guilty to using cocaine and was sentenced to six months in prison.
On November 6, 1989, Mack was released from prison after serving only one month of his six-month term.
Mack was released based on the concept of “shock probation”, under which a prison inmate is released after a short period of incarceration in the belief that further imprisonment would serve no valid purpose.
Mack ended up missing the first 12 games of the 1989 regular season.
However, Mack came up big in a critical 24-20 win by Cleveland against the Houston Oilers in the final game of the regular season on December 23, 1989.
The win clinched the 1989 AFC Central division title for the Browns (who finished the regular season in 1989 with a 9-6-1 record).
In the winning drive for the Browns in the game, Mack had 12-yard and 11-yard runs before scoring the winning touchdown on a 4-yard touchdown run with only 39 seconds left to play in the game.
The play was typical of many other short-yard touchdowns scored by Mack in his NFL career, as he plowed through the center of the offensive line and bowled over Oilers defenders Robert Lyles and Bubba McDowell into the end zone.
Browns President Art Modell hugged and kissed Mack (who had 12 rushes for 62 yards in the game) in the trainer’s room after the game.
“I’m happier for Kevin Mack than I am for myself and for the Browns. I’m proud of the way he came through this thing. He’s a stronger man for it”.
Cleveland’s win advanced the Browns to a January 6, 1990 divisional round playoff game against the Buffalo Bills, which the Browns won 34-30.
Mack had 62 rushing yards on 12 attempts in the game.
The following week, for the third time in four years, on January 14, 1990, the Browns played the Denver Broncos in an AFC championship game.
Once again, Mack and the Browns were stopped short of the Super Bowl by the Broncos, losing 37-21.
Mack had 36 rushing yards on six attempts, and caught two passes for eight yards, in the game.
For the 1989 season (playing only six of 18 regular season and playoff games), Mack rushed for 228 yards on 55 attempts, scored the above-described one rushing touchdown against the Oilers, and caught six passes for 34 yards.
1990 – 1993 – Remaining NFL Career
The loss to the Broncos in the 1989 AFC championship game turned out to be the last playoff game in Mack’s NFL career.
While Mack played four more years for the Browns, the Browns never won more than seven games; Cleveland was 3-13 in 1990, 6-10 in 1991, 7-9 in 1992, and 7-9 in 1993.
Despite the lack of team success, Mack still posted some solid individual and season statistics during his remaining NFL career.
On October 8, 1990, Mack rushed 15 times for 54 yards and caught two passes for 17 yards (including an 11-yard touchdown pass from Bernie Kosar), as the Browns avenged their recent championship game losses to the Denver Broncos 30-29.
Mack scored two touchdowns (on a three-yard pass from Kosar and on a one-yard run) in a 38-23 Cleveland loss to the Los Angeles Rams on December 2, 1990.
Mack caught seven passes for 78 yards in the game.
Playing in 14 of 16 regular-season games in 1990, Mack rushed for 702 yards on 158 attempts, scored five rushing touchdowns, caught 42 passes for 360 yards, and scored two receiving touchdowns.
On November 3, 1991, Mack scored three rushing touchdowns (one for four yards, and two for two yards), as Cleveland lost to the Cincinnati Bengals 23-21.
In the game, Mack had 78 yards rushing on 26 attempts.
In a 31-0 Cleveland shutout of the Indianapolis Colts on December 1, 1991, Mack scored two touchdowns on a three-yard pass from Kosar and on a 51-yard run.
Mack rushed for 69 yards on nine attempts in the game.
In 1991, Mack, playing in 14 of 16 games (and starting only 11 games), rushed for 726 yards on 197 attempts and scored eight rushing touchdowns.
He also caught 40 passes for 255 yards and scored two receiving touchdowns.
On October 18, 1992, Mack scored two rushing touchdowns on one-yard and five-yard runs, as the Browns defeated the Green Bay Packers 17-6.
Mack had 75 rushing yards on 19 attempts in the game.
Playing in 12 of 16 games (and starting only six games) in 1992, Mack rushed for 543 yards on 169 attempts and scored six rushing touchdowns.
He also caught 13 passes for 81 yards in 1992.
1993 was Mack’s final season.
He played in only four games and started none of them.
Mack had 33 rushing yards on 10 attempts in 1993.
Mack scored his final NFL touchdown on a one-yard run in a 42-14 Cleveland win over the Los Angeles Rams on December 26, 1993.
Mack retired after the 1993 season at age 31.
The Years After the NFL
After retirement, Mack moved out of Cleveland and lived in Houston for 14 years.
Mack coached at Texas Southern University.
While in Houston, Mack also helped a friend start a business.
Mack came back to Cleveland and the Browns in 2007 when Browns General Manager Phil Savage gave Mack the opportunity to interview for a job.
Mack was hired as Assistant Director of Player Programs for the Browns.
Mack currently works for the Cleveland Browns in the Alumni Relations Department.
Concerning his job, in accepting the below-described Dino Lucarelli Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016, Mack said:
“Some of the things that I learned from these guys are amazing. The way they care about the players, the history of this team is just amazing. So I try to emulate that now. And it’s real easy for me because I get to work with guys that I played with and the guys who were blazing the trail before we got into Cleveland. The Jim Browns, Paul Warfields, those guys. So I’m blessed and I’m lucky to be able to work with gentlemen like that who set the standard for the Cleveland Browns.”
Mack has been married to his wife, Ava, for approximately 34 years.
It is believed that he has two daughters.
Mack received various honors after his retirement from the NFL.
In 2000, the Kings Mountain Herald designated Mack as Kings Mountain’s Football Player of the 20th Century.
In 2007, Mack was named to the “Cleveland Browns Legends” program.
In 2012, Mack was recognized as Kings Mountain High School Player of the Decade for the 1970’s.
In 2016, Mack received the Dino Lucarelli Lifetime Achievement Award at the National Football Foundation and Cleveland Touchdown Club Charities Athlete-Scholar Awards Banquet.
In 2016, Mack was also inducted in the Greater Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame.
In 2017, Mack was inducted into the Cleveland County (North Carolina) Sports Hall of Fame.
Mack’s Legacy with the Browns
Kevin Mack probably does not have the statistical accomplishments to ever be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
However, that likelihood should not diminish what Kevin Mack did accomplish during his nine years in the NFL as a member of the Cleveland Browns.
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) September 28, 2017
Among Cleveland Browns running backs, Mack ranks fifth in career regular-season Cleveland Browns rushing yards (5,123 rushing yards), fourth in career regular-season Cleveland Browns rushing touchdowns (46 touchdowns), and fourth in career regular-season Cleveland Browns rushing attempts (1,291 rushing attempts).
In addition, when his eight receiving touchdowns are combined with his rushing touchdowns, Mack ranks sixth in career regular-season Cleveland Browns total touchdowns among all Cleveland Browns players.
In reviewing Mack’s numbers, it is important to remember that he only played in every game in a season for the Browns in 1985.
Mack’s conviction for cocaine use significantly limited Mack’s 1989 season.
Injuries (including to his shoulder and knee) restricted his seasons in other years.
Had Mack played every game in each year, and, in addition, had played in the NFL instead of the USFL in 1984, Mack’s NFL statistical numbers with the Browns would be even more impressive.
Moreover, during one of the “golden” periods of Cleveland Browns football, from 1985 to 1989, when the Browns had five playoff appearances, won four division titles, and played in three AFC championship games, Mack was a critical contributor to the success of the Browns.
Mack recognizes the passionate support of Browns fans.
“I just think it’s amazing how the fans of the Browns have given 100 percent no matter what. No matter the circumstances or conditions, they had open arms for this organization and the teams that passed through.”
Buddy & I met Kevin Mack at a Browns game. I asked him how come we are “Friends on Facebook” for 5yrs, but he never wishes me Happy B-Day or “likes” any of my kids pics!
He thought that was pretty funny!😂 pic.twitter.com/PFCJv3DEYS
— Chuck Banks (@cjbosu2000) December 10, 2019
Recognizing both Mack’s individual Browns statistics and Mack’s help in making the Browns a winning team, Cleveland fans will always have “open arms” to embrace one of their heroes – Number 34, Kevin Mack.