Art McNally, the first official to be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in the history of American football, has died aged 97.

His son, Tom McNally, released the news that his father died in a Newtown, Pennsylvania hospital of natural causes. 

“Art McNally was an extraordinary man, the epitome of integrity and class,”, said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in a statement.

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He further added, “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”.

Who was Art McNally?

Art McNally, whose full name was Arthur Ignatius McNally, was born on July 1, 1925. A Philadelphia native, McNally graduated from Temple University

McNally began his professional career as a teacher at Central High School. In 1968, he became an NFL supervisor of officials. The utilisation of footage from different NFL games to judge the performance of officials was one of the Hall of Famer’s major contributions to the league.

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McNally got his start in officiating in an informal way when he called games while serving in the Marines in World War II. He went on to call more than 3,000 games in football, basketball and baseball, chronicling them all in books he kept, according to son-in-law Brian O’Hara.

Before shifting to the NFL league office in 1968, McNally would often officiate high school, college and professional games on the same weekend.

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“He was natural at it,” son-in-law Brian O’Hara said this past summer. “From being a teacher and being kind of like a rule follower his life because he followed the rules. … The biggest thing was he enjoyed making it fair. That’s all he wanted to do was to be fair and to get it right. I guess that’s the things he enjoyed about officiating.”