Steve "Air" McNair: A Winner's Career in Retrospect

The RantCorrespondent IJuly 7, 2009

NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 16:  Steve McNair #9  of the Tennessee Titans celebrates a touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals during the Bengals 31-23 victory over the Titans on October 16, 2005 in Nashville, Tennessee.   (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

On the celebration of our nation's independence, sports fans around the country took a moment of silence to remember a historic NFL player.

Steve McNair, 36, was found dead in his Nashville apartment on a Saturday afternoon; his death has been classified as a homicide.

“Air McNair” was known for his toughness and an uncanny approach to the quarterback position. McNair was described as a warrior among teammates because he frequently played hurt, week in and week out.

The multidimensional McNair was a winner from the start. He led Mount Olive High School to a Mississippi state championship and was even drafted by the Seattle Mariners to play professional baseball.

Ultimately, McNair turned down the baseball offer to attended Alcorn State University to play quarterback rather than play defensive back at LSU or Southern Miss. At Alcorn State, he became one of the most successful Division 1-AA (now known as Football Championship Subdivision) players to ever step foot on the gridiron.

During McNair’s senior season in 1994, he received the Walter Payton award as the top player in NCAA Division 1-AA. In addition, McNair was an All-American and Heisman Trophy Finalist after producing nearly 6,000 yards in the air and on the ground while compiling a whopping total of 53 touchdowns.

In his four-year career, McNair amassed 14,496 career-passing yards and 16,823 yards of total offense; both are still Division 1-AA records.

As a revolutionist during his days at Alcorn State University, McNair caught the attention of the Houston Oilers and then-new head coach Jeff Fisher, who ended up drafting him with the third overall pick in the 1995 NFL Draft.

McNair continued his ruggedness and tough style of play with the Oilers, providing a one-two punch with 1996 first round pick and Heisman winner running back Eddie George.

The Tennessee Titans were born in 1999 with Air McNair as the face of the franchise. McNair, with the help of backup Neil O’Donnell, led the Titans to a 13-3 record and a trip to Super Bowl XXXIV.

The Titans played one of the most memorable Super Bowls to date against the St. Louis Rams as McNair orchestrated a 73-yard final drive that came up one-yard short on the last play of the game, as Rams linebacker Mike Jones stopped receiver Kevin Dyson at the goal-line with time expired.

The Titans under McNair’s control were a perennial top force in the NFL. The Titans posted a 43-21 regular season record from 2000 to 2003.

During the 2003 season, McNair was named co-MVP with division rival Peyton Manning despite not practicing the final two months of the season due to injuries. McNair, who was always known for being an admirable player on and off the field, had nothing but great things to say about himself and rival Manning.

“My words cant express how I feel being co-MVP with another great quarterback like Peyton," he said at the time. "It’s very emotional right for me that people look at me as being one of the top quarterbacks of the NFL, one of the top players, and co-MVP.”

McNair’s post-MVP Titan career was injury-ridden and did not feature the storybook ending he had hoped for, but his luck changed on June 7, 2006, when he was traded to the Baltimore Ravens.

McNair showed flashes of his old form during the 2006 campaign, throwing for over 3,000 yards and 16 touchdowns and leading the way to a 13-3 record and the AFC North Division title. Despite the regular season success, the Ravens lost to the Colts in the playoffs.

In April of 2008, McNair retired with three Pro-Bowls, 31,304 passing yards, and 174 touchdowns on his resume.

Fans will remember McNair as a player who defied odds and was undoubtedly one of the toughest players to ever put on a helmet, from his days at Mount Olive High School to his retirement. McNair proved he could play quarterback, spurning guaranteed money in pro baseball and a Division I scholarship to play defensive back at two bigtime colleges.

McNair was one of the few players from I-AA to get Heisman recognition and the first black small-college quarterback to get national exposure since Doug Williams in 1978. 

By all accounts, McNair was a one-of-a-kind person, teammate, and friend. The community will remember him as always very giving and generous. His teammates will remember him for his passion and willingness to leave it on all the field. His friends will remember him as someone who significantly impacted their lives forever and will be greatly missed.

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