There is something missing from the hallowed Hall in Canton, and it is a glaring omission.
In total, 354 bronze busts line the walls of football’s shrine, but not one of them features the likeness of a pro football official. The Pro Football Hall of Fame recognizes dozens of contributors — owners, general managers, former commissioners, scouts — a category the Hall admitted was being shortchanged, and revamped its procedures in 2015.
Up until 2015, officials were included in a long-list of more than 100 players, coaches, and contributors, but were always winnowed out on the first cut. Contributors to the game, including officials, were overlooked by the selection committee, perhaps in avoidance of “taking away” a gold jacket from a deserving player. Now, a special contributors subcommittee places a nominee before the full selection committee every year; in some years the rules allowed for 2 contributors, and for the special centennial class, a separate panel picked 3. With a smaller list of people to work with, officials were under consideration, but never received the nomination of the contributors subcommittee. The contributor nominee for the Class of 2022 will be announced on August 31. Five members of the ten-member panel are in this year’s rotation for the vote. A nominee is really a shoo-in, as only once has the full selection committee rejected the subcommittee’s nominee.
In 2024, the rule that opened the new voting procedure for contributors will come to an end, unless the Hall’s board of directors extends it.
Of the four major sports halls of fame, Canton remains alone in never having enshrined an official. And, it isn’t even close: each of the other halls have inducted officials numbering in the double digits. Let’s say that officiating gets on a lucky streak and sweeps the contributor category for the next 5 years — they will still be half of any of the other halls of fame.
“I have always wondered why there are no game officials in the Hall of Fame,” says retired 28-year referee Ed Hochuli. “After all, they are the ‘face of the league’ on game days, and they are the ‘face of integrity’ for the game.”
There will be some that will quickly point out the presence of Shorty Ray in the Hall of Fame. Hugh “Shorty” Ray was the technical advisor to the commissioner on rules matters and was responsible for editing the rulebook. Ray was first hired by Bears owner George Halas, who was the chairman of the rules committee, before being hired by the league in 1938. Ray was an analytics guy. He examined penalty yardages. He would sit in the press boxes timing dead-ball periods to encourage a faster-paced game. He added many innovations to the game during the NFL’s awkward teen years. However, Ray never officiated in the NFL, and the Hall of Fame incorrectly identifies him as the league’s “supervisor of officials.” That title did not exist until 1956, four years after Ray retired from the NFL. While he worked closely with officials on rules, testing, and mechanics, officials reported to the commissioner during Ray’s tenure. Very deserving of enshrinement, but he was not a pro football game official.
Rich McKay has been the chairman of the Competition Committee — successor to the Rules Committee — for 24 years, and if for some reason he were ever to be enshrined, no one would say that he was a game official. To make a case that Ray is an official would mean that the only individual classified as such has an asterisk doing a lot of work.
That’s not to say the Hall completely ignores officiating. There is a science-fair-sized exhibit of officiating relics and information in the basement. It doesn’t even appear on the souvenir map.
It is time for Art McNally
Every year we here at Football Zebras carry the torch for the candidacy of Art McNally to be the first NFL official enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Every year, we are disappointed that someone else received the nomination from the contributors subcommittee. While all were deserving, we counter that with the fact that McNally’s contributions spanned 54 years in the NFL and formed the bedrock of modern officiating — not just for pro football, not just for football, but for all sports.
Art McNally’s résumé is long and impressive with several achievements. Starting as a field judge in 1958, McNally eventually became the supervisor of officials as the league prepared for the merger with the American Football League. He remained in that position until 1989, and started a 25-year working retirement, long regarded as the guru of football officiating.
We made the exhaustive case for McNally, which is a must read for anyone who advances any other candidate for contributor. Can anyone realistically measure up to the level of contribution that McNally established?
The complete shutout of any official who worked in the last 100 years recalls the struggles to have punters recognized in the Hall of Fame. After being derided for decades, finally there was a breakthrough.
Now the only ones on the field that have not been represented are officials. And McNally, who turned 96 years old in July, is overdue for recognition.
To the contributors subcommittee, please end this shutout.
Football Zebras Hall of Fame nominees list
The editors of Football Zebras have selected our list of “12 + Art” officials that should be under consideration by the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Because, why would they just stop at one?
- 2018: Art McNally
- 2019: Jerry Markbreit, Jim Tunney, Burl Toler, and Stan Javie
- 2020: Jerry Bergman Sr., Ron Botchan, Tom Kelleher, and Bob Beeks
- 2021: Ben Montgomery, Jerry Seeman, Tony Veteri Sr., and Ron Gibbs
Hall of Fame photos: Football Zebras/Cam Filipe