There isn't a moment in team history that compares to the news on July 4, 2009, that Steve McNair had died. The sordid details of his death were shocking, but it was the fact that this man who had been a leader for 13 seasons and should have been halfway through his life at most was gone.
Steve McNair was a college legend. In 1994 he had nearly 6,000 total offensive yards for Alcorn State and finished third in the Heisman voting. He finished with more than 16,000 yards of offense in college. The Houston Oilers selected him third in the 1995 draft and developed him slowly, not giving him the starting QB job until the 1997 season opener.
It was appropriate that McNair would start the first home game for the franchise in Tennessee.
There wasn't much national notice to McNair's game until the Tennessee Titans made an incredible playoff run following the 1999 season. He helped propel the franchise to its first Super Bowl and the team finished one yard short of a game-tying touchdown. McNair set a record for single-game rushing for a quarterback in a Super Bowl that still stands.
In 2002 McNair helped the Titans to a playoff bye by winning the final five games. What's remarkable about the run is that McNair didn't practice during the stretch because of turf toe, a sore back and strained ribs. He was named the AFC Player of the Month.
The stats aren't what made McNair a memorable player for the team. He was a leader not by getting in his teammates' faces, but by example. So much was made of his willingness to play through pain that it almost became a joke.
He made one of the toughest transitions a quarterback can make in the league. He went from a scrambler to a pocket passer. Through the 2002 season McNair had at least 337 rushing yards every year as a starting quarterback. He curbed the scrambling and in 2003, under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger, McNair blossomed and shared the MVP award with Peyton Manning despite missing two games.
The Titans had to part ways with McNair after the 2005 season due to poor salary-cap management. McNair signed with the Baltimore Ravens and steered the team to a 13-3 record in 2006, including a comeback win in Nashville against the Titans.
The body finally gave in and on April 17, 2008, McNair announced his retirement to a stunned Baltimore Ravens locker room. If it weren't for that move, the Ravens might not have traded up for Joe Flacco in the 2008 draft.
He was dead less than 15 months later, killed by his mistress who shot him four times before killing herself. He left behind four children, a shocked widow, and a stunned fan base. Four days later the team held a two-day memorial at LP Field in his honor.
McNair will be remembered for his charitable work, including the Steve McNair Foundation and his organization of supplies that were sent to victims of Hurricane Katrina. He used his celebrity to make lives better for the less fortunate.
McNair's death was a tragedy. His life was a gift to us all on and off the football field.