In Retrospect: Steve McNair's Legacy

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In Retrospect: Steve McNair's Legacy
(Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

A man who completely epitomizes the very team he flourished on, the Titans, Steve LaTrael McNair was born to Lucille McNair on Valentine's Day of 1973. Steve grew up with his four brothers on a small farm in Mount Olive, Mississippi. His mother raised the five on a very low income, and had trouble because she sacrificed a lot to raise her boys.

When asked about his mother, McNair didn't hold back on revealing her hardships. "I used to see my mother scratch for every penny. To make us happy, she did without," he said. "It was hard seeing my mother work from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. I remember seeing her closing her door and crying because she didn't think that she was doing a good job of raising us, and feeling like she didn't have enough income to take care of us."

High School

Steve entered Mount Olive High School his freshman year in 1987, and proved himself as one of the greatest athletes to step foot in the school. He was a star point guard for the basketball team, a long distance and sprinter for the track team, a shortstop and outfielder for the baseball team, and was a dual threat on the football team as a quarterback and defensive back. He was outstanding in all four sports, but especially baseball and football. He was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 35th round of the 1991 MLB amateur draft, and of course dominated on the football field.

His junior year, he lead Mount Olive to a state championship, had 15 interceptions on the season, was All-State and was named All-American by Super Prep Magazine. He had a career total of 30 interceptions, tying the state record previously set by future first round draft pick Terrell Buckley. McNair got plenty of offers from high-caliber schools such as LSU, Miami, Nebraska and Ohio State. So what made him decide to go to division I-AA Alcorn State?

College

All of his other offers were to play defensive back, but Air McNair wanted to play quarterback. In 1992, he passed for 3,541 yards and 29 touchdowns, and ran it in for 10 more scores. In 1993, he again passed for over 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns, and was named First-Team All-SWAC for his third season in a row. He then broke through his senior season, surprising fans and frustrating defensive coordinators.

He gained nearly 6,000 yards that season of combined rushing and passing, 53 touchdowns, broke over a dozen records, named an All-American, won the Walter Payton award and placed third in the Heisman Trophy voting. He also set career records for the Football Championship Series with 14,496 passing yards, and 16,283 overall yards, both of which still stand. 

Professional Career - Oilers

With the third pick of the 1995 NFL Draft, along with new head coach Jeff Fisher, the Houston Oilers selected Steve McNair, signing him to a seven year contract. He didn't exactly burst on the NFL scene, his first two seasons he backed up the fourth best passer in the AFC at the time, Chris Chandler. Not until 1997 did McNair start for the Oilers, and he let himself be noticed. 

The Oilers finished 8-8 the 1997 season, but Air McNair's first season starting was much more than mediocre. His 2,665 passing yards in a season were the most for the Oilers since Hall of Famer and nine-time Pro-Bowler Warren Moon in 1993, and his mere 13 interceptions on the season were the lowest in franchise history. Unheard of for a quarterback, Steve led the team in rushing touchdowns that season, with 8, and finished second to running back Eddie George in rushing yards, with 674, the third highest total for a quarterback in NFL history. 

The next season in 1998, McNair set personal passing records with 3,228 yards and 15 touchdowns for the Oilers, who had now moved from Houston to Nashville. He also broke his own interception record that he had set the previous season with only 10, and finished with a QB rating of 80.1. The next season was a year for the ages.

Professional Career - Titans

1999. The Titans Super Bowl run, although at the beginning of the season, things looked bleak. In the preseason, McNair was told he had an inflamed disk and needed surgery, and was out for the next five regular season games. When Steve returned, he led the Titans to win seven out of their next nine games, finishing the regular season 13-3.

The Titans hosted the Bills for the first round Wild Card game, and started off the game dominantly. After a scoreless first quarter, the Titans racked up 12 points, including two off of a safety, and went in at halftime ahead 12-0. Unexpectedly, the Bills rallied back, and Steve Christie made a clutch 41-yard field goal to put the Bills ahead 16-15, with only 16 seconds left in the game.

What happened next was a play straight out of a fairy tale. Lorenzo Neal fielded the kick, and jogged slightly to right side of the field, with a few players behind him. He then handed it to Frank Wycheck, who then turned, jumped, and threw the ball across the field to Kevin Dyson, who sprinted down the sideline 75 yards for an incredible score, with no time left for any response from the Bills. A miracle. A Music City Miracle.

The Titans went on to face the Greatest Show on Turf: the 1999 Rams and their explosive offense, led by backup quarterback Kurt Warner. The game definitely didn't start out as planned for the Titans, trailing 9-0 at halftime, and at one point in the third quarter, behind 16-0. But Tennessee rallied around McNair and he led 3 scoring drives and tied up the game at 16-16. The Rams scored on their next drive, pulling ahead 23-16, and despite an incredible, methodical drive by McNair, his pass to Kevin Dyson came up one yard short. McNair certainly left his mark, passing for 214 yards, and setting a Super Bowl record for the most rushing yards for a quarterback, 64 on 8 carries. 

Commenting on how close they came to the Lombardi trophy, "It's always going to be there," McNair said. "I don't care how many people say that they don't think about it, you always replay it in your mind. I think about how sad and how bad I was feeling. It was a low point in my career because I think that we had a chance to win the game if we would have gotten that yard and went into overtime. The one yard short still hurts because I haven't been back. It will never go away until I get back to the Super Bowl. And not only get back, but win. That's a motivating factor for me." Unfortunately, he never went back.

In the 2002 season, the Titans made the playoffs again, and McNair had a spectacular game against Pittsburgh. He set career playoff records, passing for 338 yards and two touchdowns, and rushing for 29 more yards and another score. They went on to win the game in overtime, faced the Raiders in the AFC Championship game, but ended up losing 41-24. 

For Steve McNair, it was was all about 2003. Despite being sidelined for two games due to a calf and ankle injury in December, the 2003 season was one of the most prolific in McNair's career. Steve passed for 24 touchdowns, maintained a 100.4 quarterback rating, finished the season 12-4, was named Co-MVP with Peyton Manning, and was named All-Pro. Unfortunately, the Titans lost in the playoffs to the defending Super Bowl Champs, the Patriots. 

Professional Career - Ravens

In 2004, Steve McNair only played eight games due to a badly bruised sternum, and on June 7, 2006, Steve was sent to the Ravens in exchange for a 4th round draft pick in the 2007 NFL draft. His first season in Baltimore was extremely successful. After the 2005 Ravens finished 6-10, the arrival of McNair turned them around to a 13-3 record and an AFC North Championship in 2006. He also passed the longest touchdown pass in Baltimore history, an 89-yard pass to Mark Clayton. In their first playoff game, they lost to the Colts 15-6, who went on to win the Super Bowl.

In 2007, McNair only started six games for the Ravens, and in April of 2008, McNair announced his retirement from the game.

His Death

Steve LaTrael McNair was born on a holiday, Valentine's Day. He also was killed on one, Independence Day. On July 4th, 2009, Steve McNair was shot to death by his mistress, Sahel Kazemi, who then shot herself. 

Reminiscing over the late top competitor of his, Peyton Manning stated "Steve McNair was one of the greatest competitors I've ever played against. I'll always remember playing against him. Many of our defensive players always talked about what a huge challenge it was having to play against him, he and I had some great battles against each other. Sharing the NFL MVP honor with him was special because of what a great football player he was. I'm truly going to miss him."

Both his college and high school coaches remember how humane and down to earth he was, recalling his humility, how he would never try and be above anybody, and how kind he was. 

His Legacy

Steve McNair was unarguably, one of the greatest athletes of all time. He became only the fifth player in NFL history to pass for 20,000 yards, and rush for 3,000. He was also known as one of the toughest players of all time. He had surgeries on his toe, ankle, knee, back, chest, hip, and twice on his shoulder, and was named the third toughest athlete in sports in 2004 by USA Today. His countless records are only the physical sports aspect of what he left behind. The rest is his historic legacy.

 

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