Canton, Ohio -- Next to Babe Ruth and The Four Horsemen, Johnny Blood might have been the most magical name in sports during the 1920s and early ‘30s, a stretch that overlapped the so-called Golden Age of Sports.
Sadly, when he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a charter member in 1963, someone in Canton did what Blood avoided doing throughout life – merged his two names.
The upshot of that decision was to spoil one of the great stories of the Packers’ past.
Johnny Blood, for those needing a historical brush up, was not only a great player, but also probably the most colorful and eccentric person ever to perform in the NFL.
Born John Victor McNally, the New Richmond, Wis., native assumed the alias, Johnny Blood, when he joined a semi-pro team and took a cut of the action while still planning to play college football.
Thereafter, during 14 years in the NFL, including his seven seasons with the Packers, Blood used his adopted name exclusively.
He later enlisted in World War II, married and coached at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., as John McNally, but he was strictly Johnny Blood not only during his playing days but also for nearly a half-century thereafter as an enduring pro football legend.
“I’ve seen it written that my real name is John Blood McNally and I just dropped the last part for pro football purposes, but that isn’t so,” Blood told John Kieran, sports columnist for The New York Times, in 1936. “I was just John McNally until I decided to be Johnny Blood carrying a football.”
Some 40 years ago, Blood cooperated with author Ralph Hickok on a well-done but unpublished biography, and told him he had signed every one of his pro contracts as Johnny Blood and the name McNally had never appeared in print during his time with the Packers.
Further research confirms he was listed only as Johnny Blood in the Packers’ annual press books back then, and also in team programs. On NFL play-by-plays and in its first official guide in 1935, he was listed as Blood, and he was always referred to as Blood in game stories and summaries in the Green Bay Press-Gazette and other newspapers as well.
Yet for reasons unknown, the Pro Football Hall of Fame inscribed John (Blood) McNally on his bust, thereby forming a mouthful of a name and muddling the most seductive name in Packers history.
Use of some combined form of Blood and McNally appears to have proliferated in 1950 when he returned to St. John’s as football coach. Thirteen years later, the Hall of Fame picked up on it, although it hasn’t been consistent about it.
In the Hall of Fame section of the Official NFL Record & Fact Book, he’s listed as Johnny (Blood) McNally and the Hall put out a release in 1968 referring to him as simply John Blood upon his return to Canton five years after his induction.
In defense of the Hall, Blood was inducted before there was a building, much less a library, in Canton and years before any exhaustive research had been done on pro football. He wasn’t the only one affected.
Two of Blood’s teammates were inducted as Robert (Cal) Hubbard and Mike Michalske. Yet, Hubbard said in 1965 he had been called Cal almost since birth and never Robert, whereas Michalske was better known as Mike, but listed in Packers publications and often addressed by people close to him as August, his formal first name.
It wasn’t until the thoroughly researched “Total Football: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League,” was first published in 1997 that Blood was properly listed under the ‘Bs’ as Johnny Blood with John Victor McNally noted separately.
That was as it should be and as the Pro Football Hall of Fame should have done.
For the record, Johnny Blood wasn’t a nickname. Blood, not McNally, had a nickname, “The Vagabond Halfback,” and he was clearly fond of it.
Wisconsin, as a common law state, according to Packers staff counsel and municipal judge Jerry Hanson, “recognizes the common law right to change one’s name through consistent and continuous use as long as the change is not effected for a fraudulent purpose.”
Abide by the law and it’s also legal to maintain two names.
In deference to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the Packers have chosen to inscribe the name inside the Lambeau Field bowl as it reads on his bust in Canton. After all, in the context of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he’s (Blood) McNally or “Blood” McNally when properly punctuated in accordance with the Hall’s intent.
We also have a Johnny Blood Legends Room in our Atrium and Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy has determined there’s nothing wrong with using Blood elsewhere in print or text in a quest to be historically accurate.
To a historian, that’s big.
One needs to write history in the context of when it took place to get it right. For example, Lambeau Field wasn’t dedicated in 1957, but new City Stadium or “what became Lambeau Field” was. John (Blood) McNally was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but according to the records of the day he never appeared in an NFL game. John McNally never played a down, either.
Better, yet, Murphy’s decision also allows us to take a stand against those who continue to chisel away at this franchise’s early and great history by not thoroughly researching it.