2022 Hall of Fame: Art McNally makes history as first on-field official in HOF

The old adage says if an official is doing a great job, he goes unnoticed.

That's probably why Art McNally couldn't believe that he was getting nominated for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. No NFL on-field official had ever been inducted into the Hall of Fame before.

“I’m kind of knocked over. It’s a shocker,” McNally said when he was selected as a finalist in the contributor category, via the Hall of Fame's site.

McNally was elected into the Hall of Fame and will be the first on-field official enshrined, though his family is unsure if he'll be able to attend the ceremony at age 97, according to the Bucks County Herald. McNally was more than just an on-field official in the NFL. He shaped how the game is officiated.

"The Father of Modern Officiating"

McNally is often called "The Father of Modern Officiating." His impact on officiating is why he ended up in Canton.

McNally's legacy is such a big deal in the NFL officiating world that the command center for officials at the NFL's headquarters in New York City is named Art McNally GameDay Central. In 2002, then-NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue started the Art McNally Award for a game official who exhibits "exemplary professionalism, leadership and commitment to sportsmanship on and off the field."

With McNally's induction into the Hall of Fame, his impact on the game will be recognized by a broader audience.

“Art laid the groundwork for everything that we do today,” former NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino, who now works as a rules analyst for Fox, told “He’s the biggest contributor to officiating over the last 50 years.”

Art McNally, left, supervisor of National Football League officials, and NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle discuss a play in the NFL's New York offices in 1980.
Art McNally, left, supervisor of National Football League officials, and NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle discuss a play in the NFL's New York offices in 1980." (AP Photo//David Pickoff)

McNally was a veteran before he was a football referee. He served with the U.S. Marine Corps in World War II, according to the Hall of Fame.

From 1959-67, he was an NFL game official. He spent the last eight of those seasons as a referee. In 1968 he was named the NFL's supervisor of officials. That's when his real impact on the game began.

One of his first achievements was the first formal training and evaluation program for officials. It was the first of its kind in professional sports, the Hall of Fame said.

Perhaps the most publicly recognizable impact McNally had on the game is instant replay.

McNally oversaw the NFL introducing replay as a way to double-check controversial calls. It was first used in the NFL in 1986. Instant replay is a big part of the NFL more than three decades later, and it's also used in all major professional and college sports.

McNally is credited for working 48 seasons in various capacities with the NFL. He's not a household name, because few officials are. Most of McNally's work happened behind the scenes as the supervisor of officials, a job he had from 1968-91 when the NFL was exploding in popularity.

But McNally made some history on his way to the Hall of Fame.