Philadelphia native Art McNally, the first NFL official to ever be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, died at the age of 97 on Sunday.
After he earned his degree from Temple University, McNally taught and coached at Central High School. In 1959, his journey with the NFL started as a field judge.
He wouldn’t leave his high school job until 1968, after he was appointed the NFL’s supervisor of officials a year earlier. He held that post until 1991. Not long after he took the role, McNally created the first formal film study program to train and evaluate football officials.
“Art McNally was an extraordinary man, the epitome of integrity and class,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a written statement. “Throughout his distinguished officiating career, he earned the eternal respect of the entire football community.”
In 1986, McNally introduced the game of football to instant replay, which he began experimenting with a decade before he unveiled it. When he watched a game between the Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills with a stopwatch and video camera, McNally looked into how long a video review would delay the game.
“If there was any question, we took a look at it,” McNally said after the experiment. “We asked the camera technicians to give us different angles.”
Between 1999 and 2021, officials overturned 40% of the plays reviewed by instant replay and took less than three minutes to make their decisions.
McNally was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2022. During his speech, he said what he considered to be the most important task for an official on game day.
“Do your job,” McNally said. “Hopefully nobody’s even going to know you’re around. Make the calls the proper way they should be with a heavy dose of common sense.”
According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, McNally officiated more than 3,000 football, baseball, and basketball games during a 22-year period, and even spent a year as a referee in the NBA.
The NFL headquarters’ officiating command center is named “Art McNally GameDay Central” in honor of his contributions to the game. Instant replay is now featured in all major sports across the United States.