As details surrounding the death of Steve McNair continue to come, one question will surely accompany any discussions regarding the man: What legacy does Steve McNair the player leave in the NFL and life?
The answer to that question will vary for some. In statistics alone, McNair's career may not measure up to the unspoken standards for Hall of Fame consideration. However, the impact he had on the game as a person and as a trendsetter should be enough to have him enshrined in the halls of Canton.
For a career that spanned 13 seasons, McNair was almost a dead-solid lock to start and play in every game if he was on the active roster. He played in 153 of 161 possible games, which is better than 95-percent attendance.
McNair passed for 31,304 yards during that time, which is good enough for 28th on the all-time list. He was co-MVP in 2003 and was selected to the Pro Bowl three times during his 13 seasons.
While his stats were not remarkable, the timing of his career and the manner of his career were astonishing.
Drafted in 1995, McNair was the first quarterback selected and the third choice overall.
Only six quarterbacks were taken in the first three rounds of the 1995 draft. McNair (Houston) and Kerry Collins (Carolina) were selected in the first round. Todd Collins (Buffalo) and Kordell Stewart (Pittsburgh) were chosen in the second round, with Stoney Case (Arizona) and Eric Zeier (Cleveland) being selected in the third.
McNair was chosen from Division I-AA Alcorn State, a historically black college in Mississippi. The NFL still struggled with African-American quarterbacks in the mid-1990's, despite Doug Williams's and Warren Moon's success.
McNair joined Williams as only the second black quarterback to start a Super Bowl at that position. McNair nearly led the Tennessee Titans to victory in Super Bowl XXXIV against the St. Louis Rams.
McNair's impact beyond the statistics helped dispel the notion that African-American quarterbacks were merely good athletes playing out of position. It was long considered beyond the capabilities of black quarterbacks to master the position at the NFL level.
McNair did master the job and helped start the trend of big, strong, mobile athletes who were versatile enough to be strong pocket passers as well as runners. He also helped dispatch the notion that the pressures of the quarterback position would lead to off-field issues.
During his career, McNair was never once caught up in any off-the-field scandal or situation in which his character could be called into question. In death, we are confronted with the possibility of McNair's indiscretions being a contributing factor in the circumstances surrounding his tragic end.
As a teammate, to a man, those polled would tell of a warm, compassionate fellow, a fierce competitor, and a devoted family man. McNair was a leader among his peers, and he was considered as tough as nails.
We are reminded that it takes but one moment of misfortune to undo a career of good. We should also take note of our own faults and flaws and know that no man or woman is perfect.
In life, Steve McNair was a symbol of good for an entire league, a community and a race of people. In death, like anyone else, he is mortal and flawed. Let us embrace the good in Steve McNair and remember him for what is right in the world of sports and not what we can speculate about at this moment.
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