Pat McInally ’75: Harvard’s Latest College Football Hall of Hame Inductee

Pat McInally ’75: Harvard’s Latest College Football Hall of Hame Inductee

By John Powers

     You see the photograph from that topsy-turvy afternoon at Franklin Field 43 autumns ago -- the twisting, turning, one-handed circus catch that vanquished Penn -- and it all comes back. His angular body seemingly strung together by Geppetto. His looming largest at the most pivotal moments in the biggest games. His brash predictions that he had a knack for carrying off. His riveting ability to receive, punt, kick, tackle (two touchdown-savers on his own punts against Dartmouth) and, on one startling occasion against Yale, to throw.

     Harvard has had no football player remotely like John Patrick (Pat) McInally '75 before or since. None who looked like him, talked like him or prophesied like him. His two goals, he said, were to kick a 70-yard field goal and earn a Rhodes Scholarship. The man was a human exclamation point. "Today, immortality!", McInally proclaimed before he ran rampant across and above the Brown secondary.

     That immortality will be formalized on December 6 at the National Football Foundation's annual awards dinner in New York where McInally will be enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame, the 18th Harvard player inducted and the first living Crimson entrant since Endicott 'Chub' Peabody '42 in 1973.

      For a man who grew up not far from Disneyland, who wasn't originally interested in coming to Harvard and who was planning on playing basketball when he arrived in the fall of 1971 what McInally achieved in two seasons in what he considered an extracurricular activity was remarkable. By the time he departed for a decade-long career with the Cincinnati Bengals McInally had made first team All-America and set Crimson game, season and career records for receptions and touchdowns.

     Yet it wasn't so much the records, he once observed, as it was the nature of so many of his catches -- his lanky frame contorted in mid-air, his hands (often only one) reaching above or around defenders -- and the nature of when he made them, often in games where triumph appeared doubtful.

     McInally, who stood 6 feet 6 inches and weighed 190 lbs. and slept on an oversized waterbed in Lowell House, was Ichabod Crane in a helmet, his stockings not quite reaching his pants. He would stand at the edge of the huddle in his No. 84 jersey with shirttail showing, legs crossed, hands on hips, head cocked to one side like an eavesdropping stork. "Covering Pat is like covering a telephone pole," sighed Holy Cross defensive back John Provost.

     McInally had been a quarterback at Villa Park HS but always had wanted to be on the receiving end of his passes. The first one he caught at Harvard, against the Tufts freshmen, went for a 55-yard touchdown. "Next year I'm going to run your inkwell dry," he told sports information director Dave Matthews after spending his sophomore season as an understudy.

     His farewell appearance, against unbeaten Yale in the Stadium, was notable for two startling feats -- his 46-yard pass to Jim Curry off a lateral that set up the go-ahead touchdown just before the half and his 70-yard kickoff that went unreturned after Milt Holt's winning tally.

     The Bengals chose him in the fifth round of the NFL draft -- he might have gone higher but some teams feared that he was too smart. He was, McInally once observed, 'a person who happens to play football'. He was a National Scholar-Athlete, a cum laude graduate and art history buff who was partial to French impressionists. When he turned up at training camp he brought along Shakespeare, Dumas and Bond.

     Isaac Curtis, his fellow receiver, dubbed McInally 'The Wizard'. "Hey, Harvard, what did your line average?", Ohio State players asked him before the College All-Star Game. "Oh, about 3.8," replied McInally, who broke his leg catching a touchdown pass against the Steelers ('Not bad for an Ivy Leaguer,' he cracked.) and missed his rookie season.

     McInally went on to a solid career as a receiver and punter for Cincinnati, made All-Pro and appeared in a Super Bowl. But what he's best known for is being the only confirmed player to achieve a perfect Wonderlic score in the cognitive ability test that the NFL gives to its potential draftees. "One of the reasons I did so well is because I didn't think it mattered," he said.

     McInally always was drawn to the unhelmeted life and his interests, like collecting rare children's books, were eclectic. While playing for the Bengals he wrote a nationally syndicated advice column ('Pat Answers For Kids') and during his retirement year conceived and sold to Kenner the Starting Lineup action figure series that reaped $700 million in sales. In 2007, after Wonderlic hired him to be its director of marketing and testing, he took the test again and missed just one answer. "Not a bad score after six concussions," McInally observed.