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McNally locker exhibit is on display in Canton

The Pro Football Hall of Fame is now displaying a Class of 2022 locker exhibit, which contains artifacts of each enshrinee. Art McNally, the former head of officiating and referee, is the single enshrinee from the contributor category in this year’s class, and will be the first on-field official enshrined in the Canton, Ohio, Hall of Fame.

McNally’s locker tells the story of his pro football life that spans more than half of the NFL’s 103 seasons.

Photo courtesy of Pro Football Hall of Fame

The locker contains a rulebook from 1959, McNally’s rookie season as a field judge. He was promoted to the referee position in 1960, and eventually assumed the head of the officiating department in 1968 as the NFL planned to merge with the rival AFL.

The warmup jacket is from Super Bowl I, sporting “AFL/NFL” emblazoned across the chest to account for the fact that the first four Super Bowls were not NFL games, but interleague contests with custom uniforms. McNally was the alternate official for that game with a full crew of 5 other officials from both leagues. While alternate officials today wear black warmup jackets during the game to hide the stripes unless needed, photos of the first Super Bowl show stripes were visible on the sidelines.

A jersey represents the style of uniform at the end of McNally’s tenure as the director of the officiating department with the number 35 McNally wore on the field. This is definitely not a jersey from McNally’s on-field officiating days, but it is a replica of a vintage style.

The football in the locker is a game ball from Super Bowl XXV, the final game that McNally would preside over as head of officiating. The ball is signed by the officiating crew of the game, headed by referee Jerry Seeman, who would leave the field after that game to take over McNally’s position. (Seeman is a current candidate for the Hall of Fame Class of 2023.)

In 1991, the NFL Pro Set trading cards contained a series with officials, and included a card for the just-retired McNally.

McNally’s retirement was a working retirement, as he held several roles in officiating for the next 25 years. One was to fix the instant replay system, which was so fraught with issues, NFL owners got rid of it after the 1991 season. McNally was tasked with making improvements to the system, which moved from a catch-all interventionist replay official to the current challenge system. In the locker, there is a copy of a report to the Competition Committee in 1997 on reinstituting replay, which would finally get approved by the owners in 1999.

In 2002, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue instituted a career-service award for officiating excellence and named it after McNally. The first recipient was referee Bob McElwee, and that inaugural award is displayed here.

The penalty flag is not identified, but it is certainly one that is not in current circulation. Modern penalty flags are manufactured with the fabric bunched up in a weighted ball of loose filler; this one seems to have more of a dart-like weight. In fact, common practice in the previous century was for the official to add weight to his own flag, in some cases using BB pellets.

So, no grading sheets and no position mechanics manuals. But this is a great display to honor the first official in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Trading card image: Ben Austro/Football Zebras

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Ben Austro
Ben Austro is the editor and founder of Football Zebras and the author of So You Think You Know Football?: The Armchair Ref's Guide to the Official Rules (on sale now)

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