State Your Case: Time to put Art McNally in the Hall of Fame

Art McNally photo courtesy of the NFL

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.”

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  1. bachslunch
    May 9, 2017

    Agreed, Art McNally has an excellent HoF case and should be in. Clark, excellent argument made for him. Fortunately, McNally has been on the semifinal list for Contributors since the category was established; with any luck he gets his chance sooner or later and makes it in.

    • May 9, 2017

      He is over 90, so would be good to have him in sooner rather than later … but we have only one contributor this year. That will make it tough for him. Eminently qualified. Have to believe it happens at some point, but, as I said, would like to see it while he can enjoy the honor. Thanks for writing … as always.

  2. JimThorpePA
    May 10, 2017

    Art McNally must be given credit for bolstering NFL credibility during its time of rapid growth. One can make the argument that his consistent, even-handed performance as DOO did as much to strengthen and grow the game as any thousand yard RB performance. Thanks, Clark, for a great piece!

    • May 10, 2017

      Couldn’t agree more. He’s perfect choice for contributor category. Will be one candidate this year, and he probably won’t be it. But we have two in 2018, and I’d love to see him be one of them to get us out of the owner/GM cycle. Thanks for the note.

  3. Rob
    May 11, 2017

    Hey Clark, great candidate for sure. Who do you think will be the nominee for the Contributor category in August? Also do you think George Young should be in?

    • May 12, 2017

      Yes, I think George Young should be in, but, no, I don’t believe it happens this year. My guess is that it comes down to someone like Bobby Beathard, Pat Bowlen or Gil Brandt … with a Bucko Kilroy or George Young on the outside. Just a guess. Nomination will be in August, I think.

  4. Jeff
    May 17, 2017

    Great article. I’m not a big fan of the special contributor category (would rather see more seniors), but if it ultimately gets someone like McNally in, then wonderful. I think he would’ve been a much better selection than DeBartolo, Jones etc. It’d be nice to see it happen while he’s still around.

  5. July 17, 2017

    Branson is the place to go! So much to do, so little time.

  6. August 1, 2017

    There are surely a couple more details to consider,
    but thanks for sharing this info.

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