Art McNally

Ask Art McNally about his career in football and he will show you The Book.

The Book is an old-fashioned accountant’s ledger that McNally bought when he was moonlighting as a referee in Philadelphia shortly after his 1946 discharge from the Marine Corps. Every time he worked a game, he entered it in The Book. This went on for 22 years and more than 3,000 games.

The first entry: A sandlot football game between St. Anthony’s and the Clymer Athletic Club at American and Luzerne streets. The date: October 13, 1946. McNally earned $5 that day.

“I thought that was good money for blowing a whistle so I kept doing it,” he said. “I just kept my referee’s shirt in the trunk of my car. I was on call seven days a week.”

At the time, McNally held a full-time teaching job at Central High School. He refereed games at night and on weekends. He worked his way up the ladder through the high school leagues, the semipro leagues and, finally, into the National Football League as a field judge in 1959. He became an NFL referee one year later.

McNally worked NFL games for 10 years and in 1968, he was appointed supervisor of league officials. He retired from that post following the 1990 season, but he still serves the league by watching games, scouting the current officials and lending his experience to the NFL office.

Such devotion to the game makes McNally an ideal choice for the Maxwell Club’s 15th annual Reds Bagnell Award for Contributions to Football.

The irony is McNally almost turned the NFL down when it first approached him about a job. It was 1958 and he had just completed one unhappy season working games in the National Basketball Association. Said McNally: “It was my first exposure to fans and coaches who could really holler.”

He was eager to return to the relative calm of high school and college athletics, but he was approached by Bert Bell, who was then commissioner of the NFL.

“Bert came right to the point,” McNally said. “He asked me, ‘Son, would you like to work an Army-Navy game?’ I said, ‘Sure, who wouldn’t?’ Then Bert said, ‘In the NFL, every game is the Army-Navy game.’ The more I thought about it, I realized, ‘Yeah, that’s the big leagues. If I’m gonna be an official, I ought to try it.’ So I did.”

McNally is a native Philadelphian, who began his football career as a lineman at Roman Catholic High School. He became one of the most respected officials in the NFL and also served on the Competition Committee. Hall of Fame coach Don Shula, who was the committee chairman, characterized McNally with the words: “honesty, integrity and dedication.”

For a career official, there can be no finer tribute.

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2003   Winner

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