For the first time in history, an NFL official will appear on a ballot for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Art McNally, 96, a former referee and the head of officiating in the NFL from 1968 to 1990, was selected by the Contributors Subcommittee of the Hall of Fame voters, as announced by the Hall.
Officials were considered in extended lists of nominees, but never survived the first cut. As such, the merits of debating any official in the Hall of Fame never made it to the full selection committee. The halls of fame representing baseball, basketball, and hockey have at least 10 officials — each — enshrined. The first baseball umpire was enshrined in 1953, the first basketball referee in 1959, and the first hockey official in 1961.
McNally still has one more hurdle to overcome. In February 2022, the full panel of Hall of Fame voters will vote on enshrinement and he must attain at least 80 percent of the vote. Since the separate track of contributor nominations was instituted in 2014, only one contributor nominee failed to be enshrined that year: former commissioner Paul Tagliabue in 2017, who was later inducted by the special blue-ribbon panel that handled the 2020 centennial class; McNally was under consideration by that panel as well.
The Hall of Fame released video of the call from president David Baker to McNally after the vote.
McNally is naturally the man to reverse the snub of for officiating. He tirelessly gave to the NFL officiating community for 57 of the league’s 100 years. An arc of more than half of NFL history has the indelible imprint of McNally. The breadth of his contribution is obscured by the fact that it is part of the furniture of the National Football League. His humility keeps him in the shadows, which is where officials prefer to be. To be known can be a curse in the profession.
Dean Blandino was an eventual successor to McNally, and said in 2018, “His integrity is second to none and there isn’t a person alive who has contributed more to the NFL over a longer period of time than Art.”
“He is loved by all those that worked for him,” said referee Jerry Markbreit. “Working with him was an honor and a privilege. He made everyone feel special. The finest director of officiating by far.”
Football Zebras made the case for Art McNally’s nomination in February 2018.
The Hall currently has one contributor who worked on rules and general officiating matters: Hugh “Shorty” Ray, the league’s inimitable technical adviser of rules. In his time, the officials were supervised by the commissioner, and Ray’s role was instrumental in fundamental rules changes, suggesting several improvements to the pace of the game, and for advising the commissioner on rules-related matters. Ray, enshrined in 1966, did not officiate nor supervise the officials at the pro level. So, some sources will consider McNally to be the second, but that would really bend the definition of an official quite extensively to include Ray.
If selected in the vote next February, McNally would be scheduled for enshrinement into the Hall in August 2022.