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Passing the test off the football field Making the grade off the football field

LOS ANGELES — Pat McInally never tires of reminders that he is the only NFL prospect to record a perfect score on the Wonderlic intelligence test.

"It's intellectual annuity," he says.

The Harvard-educated McInally, in fact, has gained far greater distinction from acing the Wonderlic in advance of the 1975 NFL draft than he did from playing 10 seasons as a punter and wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals.

Further eclipsing his playing career, McInally in retirement conceived a line of action figures that were sculpted and painted to resemble specific pro football and baseball players.

The series of tiny plastic figures, called Starting Lineup, made him rich enough that he no longer had to work.

"That," McInally says, "and California real estate."

McInally, 57, is still buying and selling.

He is an avid collector whose unique holdings have included original handwritten Beatles and Bob Dylan lyrics; Beatrix Potter's own copy of "The Tale of Peter Rabbit"; and a copy of Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Saw There" that had belonged to Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Carroll's two "Alice in Wonderland" books.

And he has returned to football.

Last month, after three years coaching the team's receivers, McInally took over as the unpaid head coach at Huntington Beach Brethren Christian, where son Jack, 16, is a freshman quarterback and daughter Abby, 13, is an eighth-grader.

"He's obviously knowledgeable in the game," Athletic Director Jon Bahnsen says, "and he makes the kids think things through, explaining why they're doing what they're doing."

In all likelihood, none of McInally's players has ever met anyone quite like their eclectic new coach, who played beach volleyball during his NFL off-seasons, loves anything related to "Winnie the Pooh" and for years wrote a nationally syndicated sports column called "Pat Answers for Kids."

As McInally's admiring former agent, Leigh Steinberg, notes via email, "They broke the mold with Pat."

The 6-foot-7 McInally, a prep football and basketball star, applied to Harvard only after his mother suggested he do so and, once he got there, intended to play basketball.

He only went out for football, he says, "because I didn't know anyone and figured it would be a good way to meet people."

As a junior he finished second in the nation in receiving and as a senior he was an All-American, Harvard's first in 30 years.

"That was pretty freaky," he says of his All-American recognition. "My mom's always said that was my greatest accomplishment because the likelihood of it was so small."

Before the draft, McInally was introduced to the Wonderlic, which NFL teams were just starting to rely on to evaluate prospects' intelligence. The test lasts 12 minutes and consists of 50 questions, each more difficult than the one before it.

McInally answered them all correctly.

"It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime thing," he says. "I could probably take it 100 more times and never do it again."

His score was not unprecedented — about one person in 16,000 scores a perfect 50, a Wonderlic spokesman says — but it put McInally in a class by himself among his peers.

The average score for an NFL prospect reportedly is 19, while the average score overall — more than 50,000 organizations use the Wonderlic — is about two points higher.

McInally, however, says he didn't know he'd scored so high until he read about it in the newspaper after he retired.

"The Bengals kept it from me for years and years," he says. "They didn't want me to know."

Perhaps they feared second-guessing from the cerebral fifth-round pick, who once tried to weasel out of a drill by telling his usually unbending Bengals coach, Forrest Gregg, "Your primitive exercise does not fatigue me cardiovascularly."

Gregg broke out laughing.

Later, McInally says, then-New York Giants general manager George Young told him that his high score probably spooked a few teams: "He told me, 'That may have cost you a few rounds in the draft because we don't like extremes. We don't want them too dumb and we sure as hell don't want them too smart.'"

Before he was drafted, McInally had already bought a first-edition copy of "Winnie the Pooh" with money he'd earned at the Senior Bowl, kick-starting his passion for collecting.

Taken with the 120th pick, McInally caught 57 passes and scored five touchdowns for the Bengals but was utilized mostly as a punter after his first few seasons.

He was a two-time NFL punting champion, played in the Super Bowl and was an all-pro.

In 1986, after retiring, he sold his Cincinnati condominium to a toy executive, let slip that he wrote a column for kids and wound up pitching his action-figures idea, which made him a fortune.

"It was such a simple idea," he says. "Afterward, they said to me, 'How did we not think of it?'"

A few years ago, breaking a longstanding vow, McInally says he took another shot at the Wonderlic.

This time, he faltered.

He missed one question.

"It had something to do with the solstice," he says.

jcrowe@tribune.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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