There are 10 umpires in the Baseball Hall of Fame, 16 referees in the Basketball Hall of Fame and 16 on-ice officials in the Hockey Hall of Fame. But there isn’t one modern-era official in Canton, and, sorry, but that must change.
So change it. Put former supervisor of officials Art McNally in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
To be honest, he should be there already. But the Hall is blind to officials, and McNally – like all modern-era officials in pro football — has been ignored or forgotten by voters.
It’s not as if there aren’t qualified candidates. There are … and have been. But there’ s only one official — former supervisor Hugh “Shorty” Ray — in Canton, and he retired in 1952. Since then, nothing, and don’t ask me why. All I know is that in Art McNally we have the ideal candidate to make a breakthrough for officials.
McNally dedicated his life to officiating, starting as a field judge and referee before becoming the NFL’s director of officiating, a position he held for 22 years, and, later, its assistant supervisor of officiating.
But it’s not longevity that makes him extraordinary. It’s his vision. The guy was an innovator and pioneer. Shortly after taking over as supervisor of officiating in 1968, he installed the first formal film study program in professional sports for the training and evaluation of officials. Heading a department that included five individuals who oversaw 112 game officials, he was responsible for the hiring and grading of crews — and he did it by employing technology similar to what NFL teams were using with players.
But McNally’s greatest accomplishment was the introduction of instant replay as an officiating tool, an idea he put into practice in 1986. Not only is replay a staple of today’s NFL game; it’s a staple of every professional sports league — with major-league baseball employing its current replay system in 2014, nearly three decades after McNally introduced it to the NFL.
“Art laid the groundwork for everything that we do today,” said Dean Blandino, the NFL’s former senior vice president of officiating. “He’s the biggest contributor to officiating over the last 50 years.”
So great was McNally’s impact that the officiating command center at NFL headquarters in New York bears his name: Art McNally GameDay Central. What’s more, the league annually presents the Art McNally Award to a current or former official who embodies professionalism, leadership and sportsmanship.
He’s been enshrined in the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame. He was the first recipient of the National Association of Sports Officials’ Gold Whistle Award, officiating’s highest honor. And he was named the 2012 winner of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Pioneer Award, given periodically to individuals who made innovative contributions to pro football.
Three years ago that same Hall established the contributor category for persons like McNally. It’s basically a ticket to Canton for the non-players — a list that includes general managers, scouts, owners and, yes, officials — anyone who contributed to making the game better. If that sounds like a job description for Art McNally, it’s only because it is.
“If there’s ever an official who belongs in the Hall of Fame,” said Mike Pereira, the league’s former head of officiating who’s now an analyst with Fox, “it’s not Jim Tunney. It’s not Ben Dreith. It’s not Jerry Markbreit or Red Cashion. To me, it would be criminal if it was anybody but Art.”