Remembering Steve McNair

After a July 4th morning that was filled with a winning tennis match and an afternoon that was filled with partying, the news came to my cell phone and floored everyone.

Steve McNair, 36, shot and killed in his Nashville apartment.

While the deaths of Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, Billy Mays, Ed McMahon, and David Carradine were big headlines, they meant very little to me, as I hadn’t had much to remember them by. However, I can remember quite a bit of McNair’s career, and to hear he died at such a young age is a severe shock.

McNair was a world-class quarterback for the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans for the majority of his career, ending in 2007 in Baltimore with the Ravens. He was also a record-setting leader at Division I-AA Alcorn State.

During his time at Alcorn State, McNair became one of the last serious Heisman Trophy candidates from Division I-AA, breaking and still holding the all-time records for passing yards (14,496) and overall offense (16,823 yards).

When McNair was drafted by the Houston Oilers in 1995, he quickly set the tone for a career filled with toughness. McNair was famous for his old-school play in which he would play injured and took hits like a fullback.

When the Oilers moved to Nashville in 1997 and became known as the Tennessee Titans, McNair experienced a great deal of success early, leading the team to Super Bowl XXXIV in 2000.

Atlanta has hosted two Super Bowls, but the only one I was old enough to remember vividly was the one in 2000, in which McNair’s Titans took on the Saint Louis Rams. It was one of the closest Super Bowls ever played, and McNair’s pass with time expiring was completed to wide receiver Kevin Dyson, who took the ball down to the one-yard line.

Had that tackle not been made, McNair would have been immortalized as the quarterback that led his team 88 yards in the final 48 seconds to win the Super Bowl. Instead, the Rams won 23-16 and the Titans were losers in their first Super Bowl in franchise history.

Although McNair never won a championship, he was named co-Most Valuable Player of the National Football League in 2003, splitting the honor with Indianapolis Colts’ quarterback Peyton Manning. I had to look that one up, as I knew he was nearly a Super Bowl champion but forgot about his MVP season.

As the news of McNair’s tragic death spread around the league yesterday evening, players and coaches extended condolences at an astounding rate, speaking to the high character of the former star. Many players made themselves unavailable for comment because of the sheer amount of grief they have experienced in the last 24 hours.

That alone says more to me than any memorial that will be held for the man.

“I am deeply saddened and at this point do not have the words to describe this loss,” Titans head coach Jeff Fisher said. “It is an extremely emotional moment and I don’t have the words to explain how I am feeling.”

Fisher is currently the longest-tenured head coach in the NFL, holding the same job with the Oilers/Titans since 1994. A big reason for that extended stay with one team was because of McNair.

McNair leaves behind his wife, Mechelle, and four sons. Expect to hear some really great stories in the days ahead about the kind of man McNair was. By all accounts, he lived his life the way he played football- tough and gritty.