Everyone around the NFL was shocked to learn of the shooting death of former NFL quarterback Steve McNair
The Fourth of July around the United States is supposed to be a day of celebration, but this year the entire sports world has a heavy heart on this day as it was learned that former NFL great Steve McNair was found shot to death in Nashville, Tennessee. The circumstances around McNair’s death are still forthcoming, but Nashville police spokesman Don Aaron confirmed that authorities were called to a condominium and found McNair, 36, and a woman shot to death inside.
It is hard to believe little over one year after his retirement that McNair a two-time Pro Bowl player (selected four times) has passed away. The 13-year career veteran was the 2003 co-MVP and he always played courageously during his career that spanned from the HBCU ranks to the NFL. Everyone will always talk about McNair and Eddie George leading the Tennessee Titans within 1 yard of winning Super Bowl XXXIV against the Rams, but to me one word ”Warrior” sums up the signal caller. No matter the injury or opponent, you always knew number #9 was going to give you everything he had for sixty minutes. The hard part of being warrior was sometimes toughness led McNair onto the field of battle when maybe taking a rest was a better option. Often times McNair was a one-man Mash unit as he played through injuries including a separated shoulder, bruised sternum, broken fingers, broken ribs, ankle sprains, and many others to lead his teammates unto the gridiron.
At the time of his retirement in April 2008, McNair said of his resilient play, “Over 13 years, I had a lot of injuries because I played the game physical, because I gave 110 percent every game”. In looking back, the nation first got a glimpse of McNair’s greatness at Alcorn State where he followed in his older brother Fred’s footsteps earning the nickname “Air McNair”. He was a unanimous All-American while putting the small HBCU school on the map and causing such a national sensation that ESPN scrambled to show his games on television. McNair finished his stellar college career gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated and finishing 3rd in 1994 Heisman Balloting – still is the highest finish in the competition by a 1-AA player. Air McNair didn’t leave ASU empty handed as he established NCAA records with 16,823 yards in total offense (14,496 yards passing and 2,327 yards rushing) and averaged an incredible 400.55 yards in total offense per game.
McNair then took his game to the NFL, where some doubters questioned his selection as the third overall pick in the 1995 NFL Draft by the now defunct Houston Oilers. Early in his career, Air McNair was stuck on the runway for his first couple years in the league as the Oilers wanted him to learn behind Chris Chandler – how crazy does that sound. But McNair had his breakout season in 1998 leading the newly relocated Titans, starting 16 games and setting then career highs in attempts (492), completions (289), yards (3,228), and passing touchdowns (15). He went on to lead his team to the playoffs ten times finishing with a respectable 5-5 record and winning the aforementioned 2003 NFL Co-MVP award sharing the honor with Peyton Manning. But it is McNair’s toughness that will be everlasting, highlighted by the season-ending stretch in 2002. During that stretch McNair cemented his tougher than nails warrior image by starting five straight games to end the season and leading the Titans to the AFC championship game without practicing due to injury.
In the coming days people around the water cooler will spin yarns about the play of McNair and mourn him. I am sure the uneasy and unnecessary debate over whether his career was Hall of Fame worthy will also come into play. To me the “Warrior” does deserve to get a look by the selection committee as he had the gumption and numbers including six 3,000 yards passing seasons on his outstanding resume. While bridging the gap between Randall Cunningham and today’s athletic quarterbacks, McNair’s career numbers were impressive with 161 games played, a regular season record of 91-62 as a starter, passing numbers of 2733 for 4544 (60.1 %), 31304 yards with 174 TDs and 119 INTs plus an additional 3590 yards rushing (5th all-time rushing for quarterbacks) and 37 touchdowns.
I believe McNair’s greatest contribution to the game of football was showing how leadership can take many forms. As a younger quarterback he was able to use his legs to get wins and then later in his career he matured into a winning pocket passer. I know his legacy will live-on in his many beloved fans and teammates. Former Ravens’ teammate Ray Lewis said it all about his comrade when he retired last year, “There is no greater warrior or player with a bigger heart than Steve McNair”.
Titans owner Bud Adams said in a statement of his former star player, “We are saddened and shocked to hear the news of Steve McNair’s passing today, he was one of the finest players to play for our organization and one of the most beloved players by our fans. He played with unquestioned heart and leadership and led us to places that we had never reached, including our only Super Bowl.”
Rest In Peace Warrior and we will never forget you.
Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)