SI Vault
Gerald Holland
September 02, 1963
It is—today in a place of high honor in pro football's Hall of Fame. But once it was Johnny eight floors up there outside his coach's window
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September 02, 1963

Is That You Up There, Johnny Blood?

It is—today in a place of high honor in pro football's Hall of Fame. But once it was Johnny eight floors up there outside his coach's window

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McNally is tall and lean. He has a strong face and untroubled eyes and a good head of iron-gray hair. He looks like a scholar or a poet or a contemplative monk in mufti. In repose, he is a picture of utter relaxation and, moving about, he suggests the effortless coordination of a cat. Ordinarily, he speaks quietly and briefly, as though words were not things to be wasted. On occasion, he is not so frugal with them. In his time, he has drawn street-corner crowds with rousing recitations of Kipling and has silenced soapbox orators with strange but oddly plausible arguments for or against any proposition under discussion.

Candidate John F. Kennedy met him for the first time in Green Bay, during the Wisconsin primary campaign. "Your name," said Senator Kennedy, "was a household word in our home." After the election, President Kennedy greeted McNally again at a White House reception which he attended in the company of his friend Byron White, then deputy attorney general, now a Justice of the Supreme Court.

Before that evening at the White House, McNally had been around a bit. He had taught history and economics at his alma mater, St. John's University in Minnesota. He had entered the University of Minnesota to study for his master's degree at the age of 50. He had started writing a book on economics, a work still in progress. He had read law as a clerk in his uncle's law firm. He had run (unsuccessfully) for sheriff of St. Croix County, Wis., on a platform promising honest wrestling. He had been an Air Force staff sergeant and cryptographer in India and China during World War II. He had done a few things calling for less intellectual challenge. He had tended bar in Shanty Malone's place in San Francisco. He had been a stickman, a croupier, in a gambling house. He had been a seaman, a newspaper stereotyper, a miner, a farmhand, a feed salesman, a floor waxer, a sportswriter, a hotel desk clerk, a pick-and-shovel worker on a WPA project in Los Angeles during the Depression. He had spent a night in jail in Havana for fistfighting over a matter of principle. He had walked out of a hotel in Atlantic City wearing four shirts and two suits and had settled his bill by mail later on.

In between all this, he had played some football—a lot of extraordinary football—and it was the kind of football he played that Jed to his election (along with Jim Thorpe, Red Grange, Bronko Nagurski, Cal Hubbard and a dozen others) as a charter member of pro football's Hall of Fame which will be dedicated September 7 at Canton, Ohio, the birthplace of the National Football League.

His full name, as entered in the records at Canton, is John Victor McNally. If it rings no bell, then for John Victor McNally read Johnny Blood—the name he used when he was a household word with the teen-age Kennedy boys, the name of the legendary halfback who scored 37 touchdowns and 224 points during his career with the Green Bay Packers and helped them win four NFL championships. As Johnny Blood, he played all around the pro circuit and served three seasons as player-coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the team for which he once signed his friend, Whizzer White.

"I guess you could say," Justice White said recently, "that if it were not for Johnny Blood's persuasiveness, I would not have played professional football. We played together only a year, with the Pittsburgh Steelers, but we have kept in close touch ever since.

"He was a great teammate. A cheerful fellow, friendly off the field. Nothing fazed him. Sometimes, although he was player-coach, he might miss a practice and explain next day that he had been to the library. He was a fine defense man. He was fast. I tried all season to beat him at 100 yards and couldn't. He was a great receiver. He thought there wasn't a ball in the air he couldn't catch. I value him as a friend as much as I admired him as a player."

Don Hutson, a Hall of Fame man and Johnny Blood's teammate with the Packers, has said of him:

"I never saw a fellow who could turn a ball game around as quickly as Johnny Blood. When he came into a game, the whole attitude of the players changed. He had complete confidence in himself. He had tremendous football sense."

A man who has seen all the great backs, from Johnny Blood to Jimmy Taylor of today's Green Bay Packers, said:

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