Art McNally says his first dream was to be a baseball umpire. Baseball’s loss was football’s gain.
In his more than two decades as the NFL’s supervisor of officials, McNally modernized the officiating evaluation and grading system and oversaw the first use of instant replay. So great is his impact that the officiating command center at NFL headquarters bears his name: Art McNally GameDay Central.
McNally showed his passion for officiating well before joining the NFL in 1968. While working as a high school teacher in Philadelphia, he officiated football, baseball and basketball games at every level.
“I couldn’t always be right, but I always tried to be honest,” McNally said in 1990. “I was that way when I was working sandlot games in Philadelphia, and I was that way in the NFL. I gave it my best shot every time out.”
A Marine corporal during World War II, McNally brought toughness, professionalism and integrity to his officiating career. Before he was named supervisor of officials, McNally worked for eight years as a field judge and a referee in the NFL and spent one season as a referee in the NBA.
One year I worked 270 games, and after that I decided I’d cut it back. But the next year I did 276. — Art McNally
In 1968, McNally was named the head of the NFL’s Officiating Department. He held that position until his retirement in 1991, leading the department through a period in which football reached new heights of popularity.
McNally implemented rigorous training and evaluation systems for his officials and held his crews to high standards. His every move aimed to improve officiating and reinforce the integrity of the game.
“I never wanted our men to hurt a team by making a mistake,” McNally said.
He also integrated key technological advancements in the game, using technology to its fullest effect. He scrutinized every play on film — and eventually video — and used recordings in his comprehensive evaluation process. His goal was to centralize and formalize his evaluation processes; Art McNally GameDay Central is the realization of this vision.
“It’s a fitting tribute to have his name on that room,” said former Senior Vice President of Officiating Dean Blandino, “because he is NFL officiating.”
In honor of McNally’s dedication to the league and contribution to officiating, the NFL annually presents the Art McNally Award to a current or former official who embodies professionalism, leadership and sportsmanship.
“Art laid the groundwork for everything that we do today,” Blandino said. “He’s the biggest contributor to officiating over the last 50 years.”
Elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2022, McNally was the first game official to achieve that distinction. McNally died on January 1, 2023 of natural causes at a hospital in Newtown, Pennsylvania, near his longtime home.