It has happened. It has finally happened. For the first time in history, a game official will be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Let’s state that again:
For the first time in history, a game official will be enshrined in 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 Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee on January 18, and was announced as the contributor inductee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2022 during the NFL Honors awards show on Thursday night (see the video at the end of the post). McNally was the sole finalist advanced by the Contributors Subcommittee last August.
Officials were considered in 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 a selection phase. 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 1963. It’s 2022, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame has finally joined the club.
McNally was naturally the man to reverse the snub for officiating. He tirelessly gave to the NFL officiating community for 58 of the league’s 102 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 “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 closest the Hall has come to inducting anyone in officiating is 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.
McNally will be enshrined at August ceremony in Canton, Ohio, along with the other members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2022.
Congratulations, Art. We know that you are most deserving of this bestowed honor. We think you’ll look pretty sharp in gold.