There have been a number of really interesting characters who have played for the Green Bay Packers in the over 100 years that the team has been in existence, but maybe the most fascinating was Johnny “Blood” McNally.
I know I heard about the exploits of McNally often from my grandpa and my dad while I was a young lad. I grew up in the 1960s and was enthralled by the Vince Lombardi Packers, which won five NFL titles in seven years. Bart Starr was one of my heroes and I grew up collecting the football cards and bottle caps of players like Jim Taylor, Jerry Kramer, Ray Nitschke, Willie Davis and Herb Adderley, as well as going to some of their games. But my grandpa and dad made sure I knew about the Packers who played under Curly Lambeau, who also won six NFL titles, which included players like McNally, Don Hutson, Arnie Herber and Clark Hinkle.
McNally was born in New Richmond, Wisconsin in 1903. His father owned some newspapers, as well as some flour mills, so McNally lived better than most in the early 20th century.
After graduating from New Richmond High School, McNally became a bit of a nomad in college, as he went to River Falls State Normal School, St. John’s (Minnesota) and Notre Dame. That bit of traveling became a precursor to what McNally would do once he joined the NFL.
At St. John’s, McNally was a star in both football and baseball, plus was an excellent debater and acted in a number of theatrical plays, in which he often had the lead role.
In 1925, McNally had a job as a stereotyper for the Minneapolis Tribune (owned by a family member). That was when he and his buddy Ralph Hanson, tried out with the East 26th Street Liberties, a semiprofessional football team. Because he still had a year of college football eligibility left, McNally decided to not use his given name in playing for the team.
While McNally and Hanson were headed to a practice with the Liberties on a motorcycle, they passed a theater which was showing a film entitled Blood and Sand starring Rudolph Valentino. It was then when McNally said to his buddy Hanson, “That’s it! I’ll be Blood, you be Sand.” The legend of Johnny Blood was born at that moment.
Shortly thereafter, McNally played with the Milwaukee Badgers in the NFL, playing in six games and starting five. In 1926, McNally went to play for the Duluth Eskimos, which was led by the legendary Ernie Nevers. Unfortunately, the Eskimos folded after the 1927 season and in 1928, McNally went to play for the Pottsville Maroons.
But it was in 1929, when Lambeau was able to acquire McNally for his Packers, that the name Johnny Blood really became legend. McNally was part of a team that won three straight NFL titles from 1929 through 1931.
McNally was a multi-talented player, as he could throw, run and catch. He was one of the NFL’s first big-play threats. In 1931, when the forward pass was hardly used in the NFL (nor statistics officially counted), McNally caught 10 touchdown passes. That was a record that would stand for 10 years until Hutson tied that mark in 1941 and then broke it in 1942.
Before Hutson arrived, the Packers had a great one-two combination in the passing game when they threw to McNally and Lavvie Dilweg.
But as good as he was on the field, his actions off the field were also somewhat legendary. Let’s just say that McNally like to throw back the alcohol. One time, during contract negotiations, Lambeau offered McNally $110 a game if he stopped drinking after Tuesday each week. McNally countered, “Make it Wednesday and I’ll take an even hundred.”
Lambeau eventually had enough and traded McNally to the the NFL Pittsburgh Pirates in 1934. McNally came back to the Packers in 1935 and in 1936, the Packers won another NFL championship. But in 1937, McNally was traded back to Pittsburgh where he was a player-coach the last two years he played in the NFL. Because of all of his travels in the NFL, McNally was also nicknamed “The Vagabond Halfback” when he played.
When he retired from football in 1939, McNally held NFL career records for most seasons played (15) in the league, 37 touchdowns scored (only those after 1932 were officially counted), and 224 points scored (only post-1932). We know McNally had 10 touchdown receptions in 1931 alone, so who knows how the stat total would look today for Johnny Blood had statistics from 1925 through 1931 had been counted. The exploits of McNally put him on the NFL All-1930s team for the decade in which his stats were actually counted.
As it was, in 1963, when the Pro Football Hall of Fame was founded, McNally was part of the 17-member inaugural class, which also included Lambeau, Hutson and Cal Hubbard of the Packers.
McNally’s wild nights off the field have probably only been somewhat duplicated by the likes of Paul Hornung and Max McGee when they played with the Packers. The role of George Clooney’s character (Dodge Connolly) in the film Leatherheads in 2008 was partly based on McNally.
Bottom line, Johnny “Blood” McNally was definitely one of a kind, both on and off the football field!