Art McNally, NFL Hall of Fame Referee, Dead at 97

Art McNally, a former NFL referee who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2022, died on Sunday, the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced (per NFL.com). He was 72 years old. McNally's son, Tom, revealed that his father died of natural causes, according to TMZ Sports.

"Art McNally was a quiet, honest man of integrity. To see Art's decades of service recognized with his enshrinement as part of the Class of 2022 was a special moment for the Hall," Hall of Fame president Jim Porter said in a statement Monday. "His legacy as a strong leader who helped usher in the advanced training of officials and the technology necessary to keep up with a faster and more complicated game will be preserved forever in Canton."  

McNally began his NFL officiating career in 1959 as a field judge and ended in 2007 when was an assistant to supervisor officials. He was a referee from 1960 to 1967 and then became the NFL Supervisor of Officials, a position he held until 1991 as he retired. McNally returned to the NFL in 1995 to be the assistant supervisor to officials. He held that position until 2007. 

Some of the rule changes seen today were made possible because of McNally. One of the biggest things he did was oversee the first instant replay system in 1986. He also introduced illegal contact, goalposts were moved from the base of the end zone to the back and hash marks were repositioned. In 2002 then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue created the Art McNally Award, which is given to a current or former official who embodies professionalism, leadership and sportsmanship. And when McNally was inducted into the Hall of Fame last year, he became the first official to be enshrined in Canton, Ohio. 

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"Art McNally was an extraordinary man, the epitome of integrity and class," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. "Throughout his distinguished officiating career, he earned the eternal respect of the entire football community. Fittingly, he was the first game official enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. But more importantly, he was a Hall of Fame person in absolutely every way. Our thoughts go out to his wife, Sharon, his children Marybeth, Tom, and Michael, and his grandchildren."