Class of 2022: Art McNally - It’s official, former referee joins Pro Football Hall of Fame

By Barry Milner
Special to the Pro Football Hall of Fame

The theory that football officials should be invisible because they only get recognized when there is controversy sat well with ART McNALLY.  

When the time came to honor a former game official, however, thankfully McNally was placed front and center. On Saturday, he became the first person from that necessary NFL occupation to be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, as a contributor. 

Represented by grandchildren Shannon and Connor O’Hara, McNally spoke to the crowd at Tom Benson Pro Football Hall of Fame via a pre-recorded video.  

“I have been very fortunate having a career for many years in football, consistently with the finest staff of officials throughout the country. When they officiate, they officiate for those players on the field and those respective coaches on the sideline, who have tremendous pressure on them. 

“For the millions of fans whose passion for the game make it great, I am extremely fortunate to be in this position. This is the greatest thing for an official: Hopefully, nobody knows you are around. Make the calls with a heavy dose of common sense.” 

McNally spent nine years as a field judge and referee before then-NFL Commissioner PETE ROZELLE persuaded him to join the league office and oversee officiating in 1968. McNally didn’t retire until in 2015, and the league has an award in his name given annually to an official for exemplary professionalism, leadership and commitment to sportsmanship. 

Among the innovations and improvements under McNally was the first formal film study program for training and evaluation of officials. He also developed standards for the scouting, screening, hiring and grading of the crews that work each NFL game. 

McNally kept his phone number public and would take calls from fans – as long as the fans remained civil – to discuss decisions. 

Dubbed at one point the “Father of Instant Replay,” McNally introduced the system to the NFL in the 1980s, and after it was set aside by team owners, he helped revamp it and get it reinstalled. Nearly every other sport followed suit in making video replay an officiating tool. 
“He really pulled it all together. He kind of took it from an avocation to a profession and set the stage for everything that came after that,” former NFL referee Ed Hochuli told The Associated Press. 

“It’s been obviously a long time that there have been no people from the officiating side who have gotten into the Hall of Fame. There have been some incredible officials along the way who can make a great argument they ought to be in the Hall of Fame. But none of the officials would disagree that if there’s only one or if there is a first, Art McNally should be the guy.” 

He now is.