Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame offensive specialist Johnny “Blood” McNally was listed as a running back in team programs, but became one of the NFL’s first receiving threats out of the offensive backfield. McNally, who was one of 17 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s inaugural class of 1963, was one of the most dangerous offensive players of his era, and one of the NFL’s first outgoing and “colorful” personalities.
Born in November 1903 in New Richmond, Wis., McNally graduated from high school at the early age of 14. After high school, McNally attended St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn. Despite not playing any high school sports, McNally earned letters in football, baseball, basketball, and track at St. John’s.
McNally later dropped out of college and started working for a newspaper in Minneapolis. In 1922, McNally and his friend Ralph Hanson heard they could make money playing professional football. McNally, who was hoping to return to St. John’s in the near future, used a fake name in tryouts to protect his amateur standing.
On their way to tryouts, McNally and Hanson drove past a movie theater, where the movie “Blood and Sand” was playing. From this point on, John McNally and Ralph Hanson used the names “Johnny Blood” and “Ralph Sand," respectively. Hanson never played pro football, but McNally played his entire professional career as “Johnny Blood."
McNally began his professional football career playing for the Milwaukee Badgers, Duluth Eskimos, and Pottsville Maroons before he signed a contract to play for the Green Bay Packers. Packers head coach Curly Lambeau reportedly offered McNally, known as “the Vagabond Halfback” for his spontaneity on and off of the field, $110/week if he had agreed to not consume alcohol after Wednesdays. Instead, McNally allegedly took Lambeau’s $100/week offer, without promising any lack of alcohol consumption while playing for the Packers.
In his first season in Green Bay, McNally led the Packers with 406 rushing yards and was named second-team All-NFL, as the Packers won their first NFL title. In 1930, McNally was again named to the All-NFL second team and helped the Packers win a second consecutive NFL title. In 1931, McNally was named to the All-NFL team after scoring a league-high 14 touchdowns, as the Packers won their third straight NFL title.
In 1934, McNally was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates. After one year in Pittsburgh, McNally returned to Green Bay and led the team with 25 receptions in 1935, and helped the Packers win a 4th NFL title in 1936. After the 1936 season, McNally finished up the final three seasons of his professional football career as a player and coach for the Pirates.
In 14 NFL seasons, McNally scored 53 total touchdowns, won four NFL titles, and left the game with many wild and light-hearted stories. The Vagabond Halfback wasn’t only a tough person for coaches to contain as a player, but for players to contain as a coach. While he was the Pirates’ football coach, the players reportedly had to worry more about McNally more so than coach McNally had to worry about the players.
While with the Packers, McNally reportedly was running late as the Packers team train was leaving the train station. McNally supposedly drove and stopped his car in front of the moving train while he was still in the car. Fortunately, the train had stopped, and McNally had made the train just in time.
After pro football, McNally returned to St. John’s University in 1946 and earned a bachelor’s degree. From 1950-1952, while studying for his Master’s Degree at the University of Minnesota, McNally was the head football coach at St. John’s. In three seasons, McNally’s team went 13-9.
After leaving Collegeville, McNally reportedly told incoming coach John Gagliardi that “no one could win at St. John’s." Before his retirement in 2012, Gagliardi was the winningest coach across all divisions of college football (the Division III National Player of the Year trophy is named in Gagliardi’s honor).
In November 1985, McNally died of a stroke. Remembered for his dazzling speed and colorful behavior, some said his life was made for Hollywood. McNally was a nuisance (Lambeau traded McNally twice to Pittsburgh), but yet was such a memorable person for his incredible football talent and how well he had adapted to other people (former Pirates owner Art Rooney reportedly said he would’ve fired McNally if the players didn’t get along with him so well). If it wasn’t for football, Johnny Blood would’ve been just another college dropout. Thank goodness for football.
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