John “Blood” McNally (November 27, 1903 – November 28, 1985) was an American football player and coach. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a player in 1963. A native of New Richmond, Wisconsin, McNally graduated from high school at age 14. He never played high school sports, but earned letters in football, baseball, basketball, and track at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. McNally transferred to Notre Dame in 1926, but left school to play semi-professional football. He did not earn his degree until 1946 after retiring from the game.
In 1922, while working for a newspaper in Minneapolis and still answering to the name John McNally, he and a friend, Chris Stiles, heard they could make extra money by playing football for a semipro football team in the city. They decided to try out under fake names, which would protect McNally’s amateur standing in case Notre Dame agreed to take McNally back someday after having been kicked out. They headed over to the team’s practice field on McNally’s motorcycle. “On the way there,” McNally said, “we passed a theater on Hennepin Avenue, and up on the marquee I saw the name of the movie that was playing, Blood and Sand with Rudolph Valentino. Ralph was behind me on the motorcycle, and I turned my head and shouted, ‘That’s it. I’ll be Blood and you be Sand.'” McNally made the team, but it was a few years before he made football history while playing with the Green Bay Packers and five other NFL teams.
Starting in the 1925, McNally made a tour of pro football franchises—the Milwaukee Badgers (1925–26), Duluth Eskimos (1926–27), Pottsville Maroons (1928), Green Bay Packers (1929–33), Pittsburgh Pirates (1934), the Packers again (1935–36), and the Pirates again as player-coach (1937–39). McNally played in the National Football League for 14 seasons, with five different teams. In his prime, McNally was 6’1″ and 188 lbs., known for his speed, agility, and pass-catching ability. He got his professional start in 1925 with the Milwaukee Badgers, where he became famous as the “Vagabond Halfback” for his off-the-field behavior and spontaneity. In 1926 and 1927 he played for the Duluth Eskimos,with fellow Pro Football Hall Of Famer, Ernie Nevers, and in 1928 he played with the Pottsville Maroons.
In 1928 McNally switched teams and came to Pottsville along with Walt Kiesling, another Pro Football Hall of Famer-to-be. On November 25, 1928, the NFL’s Pottsville Maroons played the visiting Green Bay Packers at Minersville Park in a driving snow storm. In a 26-0 lopsided win over the Packers, McNally scored the last two touchdowns of the game; his second coming on a 65-yard run after an interception. Although no one at Minersville Park knew it at the time, that touchdown would be the last Pottsville would ever score in the NFL. After the Maroons folded in 1928, McNally went to the team against which he scored Pottsville’s last NFL touchdowns: the Green Bay Packers. Between 1929–1933, 1935–1936, he played with the Packers where he helped them win four championships. He helped lead the Packers to three Championships in a row: 1929–1931, as well as in 1936.
In 1937, McNally moved on to the Pittsburgh Steelers (then called the Pirates), where on his first play he ran back a kick 92 yards for a touchdown. He ended his NFL career in 1939 as the head coach of the Pirates. One day in 1941, McNally took a day off from his coaching duties for the Kenosha Cardinals minor league football team and played one game with the Buffalo Tigers of the third American Football League.
When coach Curly Lambeau first negotiated a contract with McNally to play for the Green Bay Packers he offered him a $110 a week if he wouldn’t drink after Wednesday and $100 a week if he did. McNally allegedly took the $100. McNally wore several different uniform numbers during his Packers career, including 14 (1933–34), 20 (1931–32), 24 (1929–30), 26 (1935), and 55 (1936).
The Pittsburgh’s President Art Rooney hired McNally for the 1937 season to be both a player and a coach for the NFL’s Pirates. In his first season as coach, McNally’s team was able to muster only a 4-7 record, which was still good enough for 3rd place in the NFL Eastern conference. McNally and his squad fared worse in 1938, however, posting only a 2-9 record. They finished 5th out of six teams in the NFL Eastern conference. During the 1938 season, which would be McNally’s last full season as coach, the Pirates were set to play the rival Philadelphia Eagles at Laidley Field in Charleston, West Virginia on November 20, but McNally was nowhere to be seen. As the story is often told, McNally was instead attending a football game at the Rose Bowl in Los Angeles. Friends in the press box questioned McNally as to why he was on the West Coast and he replied that the Pirates had an open date. The scoreboard, however, proved otherwise. Pittsburgh was on the road playing without its boss present. “I was going to fire him,” Rooney would later say, “But the players loved him. So I told him, ‘John, you have to make the games.'” Rooney later called McNally the most memorable character he knew during his career. “Nobody would even believe some of the things he did,” said Rooney. “As one of our veterans once said, ‘This is the only team I’ve been on where the players worry about the coach instead of the other way around.'”
Following his brief stint at Pittsburgh, McNally coached football again at St. John’s University from 1950–1952 where he amassed 13–9 record during his three year stint. When leaving Saint John’s he told incoming head coach John Gagliardi that “nobody can win at Saint John’s.” Gagliardi went on to become the winningest head coach in college football regardless of division and coached at Saint John’s until his retirement after the 2012 season.
Few deny McNally’s extracurricular exploits both on and off the football field contributed to the legend of the man. Researchers, however, also agree the line between what is fact and what is fiction is often very thin. The exploits of McNally that can be substantiated include:
• Jumping across a narrow ledge six stories from the ground to gain access to a Los Angeles hotel room.
• Fleeing a towel fight with Packers end LaVern “Lavvie” Ralph Dilweg by climbing on top of a fast-moving train and crawling across car tops.
• Playing almost an entire game with a collapsed kidney.
• Having to be rescued by teammates while attempting chin-ups on the stern’s flagpole of the S.S. Mariposa while traveling across the Pacific Ocean for a barnstorming game in Hawaii.
• Riding the blinds between trains on the way to training camp to avoid having to pay a fare, which earned him the nickname “The Vagabond Halfback.”
• Once ran 50 yards for a touchdown on a lateral and when QB Red Dunn called the same play later in the game, ‘Blood’ simply smiled and lateraled the ball back to Dunn.
• Climbing down the face of a hotel in downtown Chicago to avoid curfew and recite poetry to the swooning women below.
• McNally was famous for perching on hotel ledges and the tops of bar tables as he sang the song Galway Bay.
• He once passed up an opportunity to purchase a NFL franchise for $1200.
• Alan Robinson of the Associated Press recalled that Blood “once pulled his car directly into the path of the team train that he’d missed during a late night of wine, women and song. He wasn’t even fined, or suspended—after all, he was the coach.”
• Augie Ratner, a perfectly healthy ex-featherweight boxer advertised his own funeral in a Minneapolis paper in 1971, to which McNally wrote, “I’ll be sad when you are dead.” McNally then offered a bet on which of them would live longest. McNally wrote, “The one who goes first loses a grand to the one who survives. The loser won’t miss the money, and it will console the winner for the loss of a friend. May I live a long time and you forever.” Ratner accepted the proposal both he and Blood had the $1,000 bequest put into their wills.
The day after Pearl Harbor was attacked in the opening moments of the Second World War, McNally enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps and served in India as a cryptographer. After the war McNally attempted to rejoin the Packers in 1945 but was injured by two tacklers while returning a punt in an exhibition game and retired permanently from professional football.
Returning to St. John’s, McNally earned a degree in 1946 and stayed a few years as a teacher and a coach for several different sports. Later he would return to his hometown of New Richmond, Wisconsin to run an employment agency. In 1958 McNally was an unsuccessful candidate for county sheriff running on a platform promising “honest wrestling.” McNally also entered the University of Minnesota at the age of 50, where he later earned his master’s degree in economics.
When the Pro Football Hall of Fame was founded in 1963, McNally was among the 17-member inaugural class, which included Curly Lambeau, Jim Thorpe, Sammy Baugh, and Bronko Nagurski. Then in 1970, when the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame was founded, McNally was among its first eight inductees. McNally was married twice; first to Marguerite Streater, who he married in the 1940s, and then to Catherine Kopp, who he married in 1966.
On November 28, 1985, Johnny “Blood” McNally, arguably one of the greatest and most colorful players pro football history, died from the complications of a stroke in Palm Springs, California McNally is buried at Immaculate Conception Cemetery in New Richmond, Wisconsin.
Ricky Bell (April 8, 1955 – November 28, 1984) was a running back for the University of Southern California in college, and professionally for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the San Diego Chargers of the National Football League. Bell was a star for the Southern California Trojans, gaining 1,875 yards rushing in one season.Bell first attracted notice during his sophomore season at U.S.C. in 1974 as a great blocker and between-the-tackles runner, sharing the position of fullback with David Farmer for the 10 – 1 – 1 National Championship Trojans team that defeated the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Rose Bowl by the score of 18 – 17 on January 1, 1975. In 1975, Bell led the Trojans to a 7 – 0 start to their season. Then, the lack of their passing game to balance the offense, led to the team’s stumbling to an 8 – 4 overall record, but capped with a victory over Texas A&M in the Liberty Bowl. During this season, Bell led the nation in rushing, gaining 1,875 yards, as he finished third in the voting for the Heisman Trophy. Then in 1976, Bell led the Trojans team to an 11 – 1 record, crowned by its victory over the University of Michigan Wolverines in the Rose Bowl. Despite suffering nagging injuries that limited his playing time, Bell set the USC single-game rushing record of 347 yards against the Washington State University team, and he finished in second place for the Heisman Trophy, behind Tony Dorsett of the University of Pittsburgh Panthers. Bell was voted the player of the year in the Pacific 8 conference [Pac-8]in 1976. He was also awarded the 1976 W.J. Voit Memorial Trophy as the outstanding football player on the Pacific Coast.
Bell was the first overall draft choice in the 1977 NFL Draft, selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Bell signed a five-year contract for a reported $1.2 million. It was by far the richest contract ever signed by an NFL rookie. This draft choice was somewhat controversial because Tony Dorsett was being projected as an arguably better back than Bell. Bell’s selection was not a surprise, however, because Tampa Bay was coached by John McKay, Bell’s former head coach at U.S.C. After several difficult seasons, in 1979, Bell enjoyed his finest season, rushing for 1,263 yards and leading the Buccaneers to the championship of the NFC Central Division. He led the Buccaneers to their first playoff win in franchise history that season by rushing for 142 yards on 38 carries scoring two touchdowns against the Philadelphia Eagles. The team fell one game short of a trip to Super Bowl XIV, ending their season by losing to the Los Angeles Rams for the NFC championship.
Bell died in 1984 of heart failure caused by the disease of dermatomyositis. Mario Van Peebles portrayed the player in the made-for-television movie, A Triumph of the Heart: The Ricky Bell Story, which was based on the life of Ricky Bell. Bell’s remains were interred in the Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, California.
Vern Wayne Den Herder (born November 28, 1948) played twelve seasons for the Miami Dolphins of the NFL. He played in three Super Bowls for the Dolphins. In 1996 he was selected to the College Football Hall of Fame. Den Herder attended high school in Sioux Center, Iowa. There was no football team his first two years but he was a star in his junior and senior seasons. He was a star in basketball and added football his last two years.Den Herder chose Central College at Pella, Iowa, because of its reputation for education in sciences and its affiliation with the Reformed Church in America. He was graduated cum laude with a major in chemistry. At 6 feet 6 inches in height, he was the starting center on Central’s basketball team for four years and set the school scoring record. He played defensive end in football. CBS anchorman Harry Smith was a teammate. Den Herder made All-Iowa Conference in 1968, 1969, and 1970. In 1970, his senior season, he was team captain, Iowa Conference MVP, and was named All-America, college division, by the NAIA, the Football Coaches Association, and the Associated Press. Furthermore he was coached by the late Ron Schipper, himself a College Football Hall of Famer, at Central Iowa.
As the NFL did not officially maintain sack records until 1982, he unofficially led the Dolphins in sacks in 1972 with 10½; Den Herder also unofficially led team in 1975 with a career high 11 sacks. He was named All-AFC in 1972 and went to Pro Bowl in 1973. In October 1973, he unofficially tied Bill Stanfill for most sacks in a single game with 5, as Stanfill had recently surpassed the previous total just two weeks earlier. Also, he unofficially led the Dolphins in sacks during the 1978 and 1979 seasons with 9. His unofficial total of 64½ sacks ranks fourth on the Dolphins sack list. In addition to his five-sack game in 1973, Den Herder recorded two four-sack games (September 22, 1974, at Buffalo Bills) and (November 11, 1979, vs. Baltimore Colts). He was voted by the NEA as the Dolphins MVP in 1979.
Seeing that the game had evolved towards more passing-oriented strategies that weren’t attuned to his run-stopping ability, Den Herder originally decided to retire in 1981, returning to his hometown to work in a cattlefeeding operation. However, Coach Shula asked him to return to the game for one more season after the Dolphins roster had thinned due to injuries. He ended his career after playing in Super Bowl XVII. After retiring from football for the second time, Den Herder returned to Sioux Center, Iowa and became a farmer, now specializing in corn and soybeans. He is married and the father of two children. Due to a harvest, he was unable to join the rest of the 1972 Perfect Season Dolphins at a ceremony in their honor, hosted by President Barack Obama at the White House.