Art McNally, a storied official, is the Hall of Famer who never wanted fame

Art McNally, a storied official, is the Hall of Famer who never wanted fame | Pro Club Bd

The irony of Art McNally’s induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame is that he repelled fame. McNally keeps a record in his home in the Philadelphia area of ​​every game he officiated in any sport – 3,145 in all. The goal was to leave all 3,145 without anyone remembering they were there.

“His belief was that every time you heard from or wrote about an official, it was bad that something had gone wrong,” said Brian O’Hara, McNally’s son-in-law.

McNally felt that way for 48 years in the NFL. He was on the field for nine seasons from 1959 to 1967 and became the NFL’s Supervisor of Officials in 1968. Officials are like lifeguards on the beach: you need them there, but you don’t want to talk about them on the way home.

“So many people are looking for their 15 minutes of fame and glory,” said Walt Anderson, the NFL’s senior vice president of officiating. “And to really be a good public servant, you seriously have to be content with staying out of the spotlight. You want to be fully prepared and really appreciate Not to be the story. …And Art, that was his heart and soul in terms of his sense of the umpire’s place in the game. He was also very consistent in delivering (that) message.”

McNally, 97, will make history as the first field official to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, although his induction has more to do with his overall work than his time on the field. The office of referee is an integral part of football, but an official’s merit can be difficult to quantify or qualify for Hall. A player has statistics. A coach has a record. An owner has organizational achievements. McNally’s entry is based on the reputation he’s built in the league over decades. When McNally got the call to say he was a finalist, he was told that “integrity” was the word that came up during his candidacy.

“He… embodies integrity and credibility,” Anderson said. “Often stands so much for upholding, protecting and preserving the integrity of the game and I don’t think anyone embodies that more than Art McNally.”

McNally’s equanimity was essential to his work. When Norm Van Brocklin was coaching the Vikings, the linesman ran over to tell McNally that the “Dutchman would like to speak to you.” It wasn’t about exchanging restaurant recommendations. And “talking” would be an understatement. Van Brocklin screamed and cursed loudly at O’Hara and continued until he ran out of breath.

“All right, Coach, anything else?” McNally said.

McNally was once assigned to inform Vince Lombardi that a touchdown his team scored would be overturned. Lombardi took it the way you imagine it. McNally remained unperturbed.

“He didn’t change the call; Lombardi could have yelled whatever he wanted,” O’Hara said. “Because it was the right call.”

According to O’Hara, McNally’s playing style was based on common sense: does he significantly affect the game? If the penalty did not significantly affect play, drop it.

“His strength was his common sense and his strength was understanding the spirit of the rule rather than the letter of the rule,” O’Hara said.

A Philadelphia native who was an avid supporter of Big 5 basketball and the Army Navy game, he never allowed himself to endorse an NFL team. That’s his job. It’s his integrity. He wouldn’t be caught wearing a team’s attire unless he was tricked into doing so. During a tour of the training camp, former Houston Oilers coach Bum Phillips watched practice from a tower overlooking the field. He called McNally up to the tower. Phillips said McNally needed a hat because it’s so sunny in Texas. McNally declined, but Phillips put one on his head just as a picture was being taken. “I got you!” Phillips said, according to O’Hara.

As a supervisor, McNally and his associates hired and evaluated NFL crews. He installed the professional sport’s first formal program for training and evaluating officials, according to the Hall of Fame website. And because of his longevity, it’s hard to find an official who doesn’t have roots back to McNally. Either McNally hired the officer, or the officer was hired by someone appointed by McNally.

“They’re always talking about training trees,” Anderson said. “I think the same can be said from an officiating standpoint that so many of today’s NFL officials can certainly relate not only to their start, but certainly to their influence through Art McNally.”

McNally’s material impact on football should not be discounted. He added the seventh official to NFL games. He brought Instant Replay into the league. He introduced video to the NFL. There are parts of today’s NFL, whether rules of the game or official decisions, that grew out of McNally and the McNally era.

But his legacy is perhaps felt most strongly among the people, and O’Hara meets officials at all levels who raise his father-in-law. The NFL presents the Art McNally Award annually to a game official who best exemplifies the qualities McNally is known for. The NFL’s acting command center has been renamed Art McNally GameDay Central.

“Art’s tree is a large oak tree,” Anderson said. “And he is the trunk of that tree for so many of us in today’s officiating world.”

This is another reason why the award makes sense. The story of football cannot be told without officials, even if they shouldn’t be part of the story. So it makes sense that a museum about football should award an official. McNally is the sensible choice to be first.

“Art will never be anyone to boast of, but everyone has rooted for many years — that if anyone deserved that recognition, it was Art McNally,” Anderson said. “And that’s just because of what he’s meant to the game for so many decades, how he’s contributed, how he’s worked tirelessly behind the scenes.”

McNally’s late daughter, Rita O’Hara, worked for the NFL and for years wrote letters supporting her father’s candidacy. When Brian O’Hara heads to Canton this weekend, he will be thinking of his wife, who died in 2019 – three years before Rita, her father’s “biggest fan” made it happen.

For a few minutes in Canton, McNally will be in a place he never wanted to be at a football event: in the spotlight. If the words are right and the rules are followed, it would be a fitting tribute.

“He just wanted to be right. That’s all,” O’Hara said. “And then further.”

(Photo by Art McNally, left, with former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle: David Pickoff/Associated Press)

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