It's been almost a week and I still have trouble wrapping my brain around the news.
In the company of a woman who was not his wife?
Murdered by the woman who was not his wife?
Surely, you jest?
But it is an unfortunate fact.
I will not spend this space spouting the "warrior" rhetoric that has been hashed and rehashed by the mainstream media, nor do I intend to psychoanalyze McNair's behavior. Clearly, the man had some demons, like 99.9 percent of the world's population, and they ended up costing him his life.
No, what I intend to do here is share my personal memories of McNair.
When I first heard the news that McNair was dead, I'm pretty sure I had the same look on my face as I would get when I'd fail a test that I thought I'd aced. An expression that says, "Really?"
In fact, It's safe to say that McNair was involved in three of the seven or eight most memorable games in Ravens history—the 2001 divisional playoff game and the 2006 season sweep of the rival Pittsburgh Steelers.
In his days with the Titans, McNair was one of the most terrifying opponents ever to suit up against the purple and black with his running and passing skills.
Although his battles against the Ravens were memorable, when the name McNair comes up, Ravens fans will automatically conjure up memories of the magical 2006 regular season.
Not much was expected of the Ravens that year, after finishing 6-10 the previous season. McNair was brought in to replace the erratic Kyle Boller and right from the season opener, a 27-0 shutout of Tampa Bay in the sweltering South Florida heat, it was apparent things would be very different with McNair under center.
From there, McNair worked magic:
- Comeback wins over Cleveland and San Diego
- Leading the Ravens to the first victory by a road team in December at Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium in a decade
- The return to Tennessee where McNair led the Ravens to another comeback win
- The two most decisive victories ever by the Ravens against the Steelers, including a 31-7 pasting in Bill Cowher's final game at Heinz Field.
For most of the 2006 season, I was living in Los Angeles and I used to tell anyone drunk or interested enough why McNair was the biggest reason for the Ravens success.
McNair, unlike Boller, was a guy his teammates would PLAY for, probably the most necessary thing a quarterback needs to succeed. Sure, Boller had the arm strength and all the other measurables. But when McNair was in the huddle, everything felt like it would be OK as long as Steve was in there.
After the second Steeler game though, McNair began to fall apart. He struggled in the regular season finale that year against Buffalo, then unraveled in the playoffs against Indianapolis. The confident leader of the regular season had quickly been replaced by an aging signal caller who couldn't hold on to the ball.
In 2007 the Ravens entered the year with high expectations, returning 21 of 22 starters from a team that went 13-3 the year before.
But things were never right with McNair from the get-go, as he injured his groin on the second play of the season and his arm strength was virtually non-existent.
That year, I got to cover McNair and the Ravens as a member of the media, and while I never got to interact with him, two things about McNair stood out.
One, he was a lot bigger looking in person. I mean, he looked like a fullback. The other was that I once saw Steve McNair wear what might have been the ugliest suit in human history. I believe it was after a game against the St. Louis Rams, a game McNair had dressed for but sat out with injury.
He came back to his locker wearing a suit that I swear was the color puke green. I mean, this suit was the same color as the pea soup vomit in "The Exorcist." Plus, he had matching lizard shoes. It was truly an outfit destined to make an impression on anyone who saw it.
I also vividly remember covering what turned out to be McNair's last game in the NFL.
It was November 11, 2007. The Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals engaged in what might have been the worst football game ever played. The Ravens had six turnovers and all the Bengals scoring was on field goals in a 21-7 win.
McNair's last play would, unfortunately, somewhat mirror the shabby and depressing end he would have in life.
McNair dropped back to pass. Finding no one open and with the Bengals rush bearing down on him, McNair took off running. For a brief moment he looked like the McNair of old, thundering down the field. But this time, a Bengals lineman caught him from behind, McNair fumbled—a common sight that season—and Cincinnati recovered.
I remember that part but I even more distinctly remember the aftermath of that play.
The fans at M&T Bank Stadium, obviously displeased with McNair's poor play, booed him lustily. McNair slumped slowly off the field, hands in his muff, head squarely to the ground. It was the look of a man who at that moment, knew that he could no longer do what he'd done his whole life: play quarterback.
They could have held the retirement ceremony right then and there. I didn't stick around for his postgame media session but reading the papers the next day, McNair sounded like a broken and defeated man. Who could blame him?
I thought back to that moment a lot when I heard the news of McNair's death. Life isn't fair a good portion of the time, and life certainly wasn't fair when it came to the end of both Steve McNair's football career and, now, his life.
Still, one of the benefits to being alive is the benefit of hindsight and although I will remember that ending, we Ravens fans and McNair will always have 2006. Thanks for the memories Steve and R.I.P.