Steve McNair: A Football Life Adeptly Handles Tricky Legacy of NFL Legend

Richard Langford@@noontide34Correspondent IOctober 17, 2012

Titans quarterback Steve McNair drops back to pass versus the Oakland Raiders at the Coliseum, Nashville, Tennessee, Oct. 30, 2005. Oakland won 34-25. (Photo by Joe Murphy/NFLPhotoLibrary)
Joe Murphy/Getty Images

Steve McNair was taken from this world far too soon in unsavory circumstances, but this should not tarnish his spectacular legacy, because when it comes to "Air" McNair's life, there is too much worthy of celebrating to do anything else. 

The NFL Network's A Football Life on McNair does a fantastic job of driving this home. 

This documentary jumps right into the murder/suicide by his mistress that claimed his life in 2009, and presents the uncomfortable question of how these unfortunate circumstances may have left his legacy in limbo.

They then smartly leave the question hanging as they jump into the rise of "Air" McNair from rural Mississippi into an NFL superstar. 

McNair was an insanely athletic quarterback and defensive back in high school. However, it was only as a DB where he received any attention from major college programs, and he ended up attending Alcorn State, the only school wise enough to let him play quarterback. 

McNair more than rewarded the school and coaches' faith in him, and helped put Lorman, Mississippi's Alcorn State on the map. He dominated like few have ever done at the college level.

He was a true a dual-threat quarterback, and his potential was not lost on NFL teams. The Tennessee Titans made him the third overall selection in the 1995 draft—the highest ever by an African-American quarterback.

That NFL career got off to a slow start, with only six starts to his name his first two seasons while backing up Chris Chandler. He took over the starting job in 1997 and never looked back. 

McNair was always able to get the job done with his feet, and he made steady strides with his passing, highlighted by a co-MVP award (alongside Peyton Manning) and 100.4 QB rating for the 2003 season.

But McNair's impact on the field cannot be measured by stats and awards alone. He was an incredible leader, amazing competitor and he had a knack for playing his best in the biggest moments. 

We need look no further than the iconic 1999 Super Bowl where the Titans came one yard short of upsetting the St. Louis Rams. Check out the final drive by the Titans, and you can feel McNair's heart and will to win pouring through on every play. 

The go-for-broke style exemplified in that video took a heavy toll on the quarterback. McNair played through so many injuries, he likely played through and didn't even notice injuries that would keep most others out of the game that week.

Air McNair eventually retired in 2007 and, as his former coach Jeff Fisher says in the documentary, the heavy toll his body took likely played a role in McNair self-medicating with alcohol, and problems stemming from alcohol became a major storyline after his playing days.

McNair is often described in the film as an introvert, but also very friendly and generous. He was active in community charities and he set up a football camp with his brothers for youngsters. 

Toward the end of the film, they get back into his untimely end and his legacy, and the people interviewed—former teammates, family and friends, etc.—speak with nothing but admiration for McNair, while also acknowledging he made mistakes. But the conclusion is fairly unanimous in that the positives far outweighed the negatives. 

Ultimately, it is his accomplishments that fans should remember him by. This was a generous man, a fierce competitor, a transcendent talent and great leader who continually sacrificed his own health for his team's benefit.

He also needs to be remembered for helping pave the way for dual-threat quarterbacks like Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III in the NFL. 

There are few players I have enjoyed watching more than McNair, and I've never had a rooting interest for either franchises he played for (Oilers/Titans and Ravens). His heart and determination were simply infectious and something every athlete should strive to emulate.