In his early years, he needed a pseudonym while playing with the Milwaukee Badgers (prior to his days in Green Bay) – that is where the “Blood” addition to his name was derived.
During his 14 years in the league, most of his production on the field was in Green Bay. In fact, during the early years of the league when offenses were no where near what they are today, he ran and caught the ball like no other.
In 75 games with the Packers, he carried the ball 106 times for 351 yards and four touchdowns – certainly not eye popping stats.
However, his pass-catching stats when the forward pass was in its infancy were better than any during that era. Again, they are not significant when compared to the modern day, but they were crazy good during that era. He caught 54 passes for 934 yard (a 17.3-yard average), 29 touchdowns and 1,234 yards from scrimmage during his time in Green Bay.
John Maxymuk, the author of “Packers by the Numbers: Jersey Numbers and the Players Who Wore them,” focuses on Johnny Blood in the chapter of his book that singles out “The Great Unmade Football Movie.”
Let’s take a look at what he has to say about Johnny Blood:
John Victor McNally was born into wealth – his father ran a flour mill and his uncle published the Minneapolis Tribune – but he took no notice of it. Instead he lived the life of an unpredictable gadfly for whom freedom was his very lifeblood.
As he once said, “When I look back on it, I can see that some of my unorthodox behavior came out of my upbringing in Wisconsin and had nothing to do with the zodiac. Some of the Blood stories you hear talk of me as though I were some kind of society football player. I did get money from my family later, but they never trusted me with it until I was 55. My mother was a school teacher who got hold of me early and pumped a lot of myths into me. Grecian myths, Irish myths, King Arthur stuff. That part of me was going to be adventure. My father was a small town businessman and athletic fan, but a left-handed, curly-haired Irshman, which explains a lot.”
His life was a remarkable celebration of the joys of hearty drinking, convivial women, and late-night fun. Paul Hornung, Joe Namath, and any other subsequent colorful playboys of note are only pale imitations of the Vagabond Halfback. He was truly a multifaceted character. Clarke Hinkle found him oddly literate – reading Chaucer and Shakespeare sometimes, and cheap pornographic fiction others. McNally graduated from high school at age 14 when he wrote in his yearbook, “Dear God, how sweet it is in spring to be a boy.” He would not finish college until he reached 46. In between, he played football.
On the playing field, he was a man before his time. He was the best receiver and defensive back of the early days of the NFL. Moreover, he was a touchdown maker in a low-scoring era. When he retired in 1939, he had scored more touchdowns (49 – 38 with Green Bay) than any other NFL player, except his Packer teammate Verne Lewellen, who had scored 51.
The 38 touchdown passes he caught (29 with the Pack) were then the league record, but that would be broken within two years by Don Hutson. Unofficial counts of interceptions list Blood as the league record holder with 40 until Emlen Tunnell passed him in 1953. He was perhaps the fastest player of his day, with sure hands and great leaping ability. Once the got the ball, he was an elusive runner with a nose for the goal line. On defense he was a hard and certain tackler. Overall, he was a vibrant, adventurous leader other players would gladly follow both on and off the field.
“I wanted a life in which I could do something I enjoyed and still have leisure to do other things I enjoyed. Football was an escape, certainly, but an escape into something I enjoyed. In the off-season I would ship out to the Orient as an ordinary seaman and enjoy the beauty of the Pacific Islands. Or I would winter on Catalina Island off the coast of Los Angeles. Understand, I was not afraid of work. I had sufficient energy that work did not bother me at all. I was a hard worker. To me, freedom did not mean being able only to do the non-difficult but rather to do what I chose to do. One winter in Catalina I worked three shifts. I worked in the brickyard all day, making bricks. I worked the next eight hours in a gambling hall as a bouncer. And the next eight hours I ‘honeymooned’ with a redhead.”
He fought authority at every turn, but always with a smile and not in anger. He was 6-2, 190 pounds in his prime with jet black hair, a handsome face, and a winning attitude. Furthermore, he was extremely intelligent, ever charming, and never lacking female companionship. To put this in cinematic terms, he was the classic antihero rebelling against societal norms who is so often seen on the silver screen. As he himself put it, “I’ve always seen myself as an outsider. You’ve seen the movies where a guy goes out by himself and hits the bush, a little away from the crowd. Well I think that was about me.”
Long before Paul Hornung and Joe Namath, Blood was the swashbuckling adventurer who love life and lived it to the fullest. The stories are many and Maxymuk recounts some of them in his book. The stories are pretty incredible and go on for pages … I would suggest picking up the book to get even a more distinct flavor of Blood’s life.
In the meantime, here is a list of all the Packers players who have worn 55 since 1950: