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It is my belief that everyone has at least one good memory of Steve McNair.
I remember when I first heard about him. I spent a summer in Nashville in 1999 while my Dad was working with a company trying to prevent Y2K (yeah that computer bug that “changed” the world).
While walking around the city, everything was abuzz about the new franchise coming to town. Since leaving Houston, the Oilers were slowly making their way to Nashville and in 1999, the city happily welcomed the Tennessee Titans. Merchandise was everywhere, as well as images of their star quarterback, Steve “Air” McNair.
After the whole “end of the world” situation was solved, I was able to attend the Titans’ first game against the Bengals. It was my first football game since I was six years old and it was a good one. McNair threw three touchdowns including one to running back Eddie George in the final minutes. The Titans ended up winning with a field goal, but what I remember was McNair’s performance.
Returning to New Hampshire, I became a closet Titans fan. I occasionally wore my McNair jersey to school, only to be made fun of. I do love the Patriots, but there was something about Steve McNair that drew me to the Titans.
Maybe it was his never-give-up attitude. He was constantly beaten and banged up, but rarely did it stop him from starting a game. Ankle, leg, wrist and sternum injuries always plagued him, but what would have put another player into an early retirement, fueled him to continue.
Like many, I remember Superbowl XXXIV, that had the final drive that saw a seven-yard pass to Kevin Dyson fall one-yard short of the end zone in the closing moments. I recall sitting on my couch, donning my No. 9 jersey and AFC championship hat in complete shock. To this day I think it is the greatest play in Superbowl history. Many would argue for Adam Vinatieri’s game winning kick two years later against the Rams, but how many games end in a defensive play? Especially on the one-yard line?
Most people might have forgotten a year later where the Titans won the AFC Central Division Championship. They may have made it to another Superbowl had a McNair pass to Eddie George not been fumbled and turned into a Ray Lewis interception for touchdown.
It was McNair’s 2003 season, where he was co-MVP with Peyton Manning, that gave instant memories with the Patriots. It was early in the season where Tom Brady and McNair had a shootout that the Patriots won, 38-30. However, it was in the playoffs where hearts truly raced.
It was a tight game where a brutal Pats defense was matched with a Titans ambush. Everything came down to a final play where McNair launched a Hail Mary that was picture perfect to Drew Bennett. Had it not been for Rodney Harrison who rocketed the ball away from Bennett, who knows what could have happened.
Even though he left for Baltimore, I will always remember him as a Titan. Leading them to tough victories against some of the best teams in the leagues. He always appeared to step up his game when needed. When he was classified as a running quarterback, he adapted his game and became more of a passer. He even joined Fran Tarkenton and Steve Young as the only quarterbacks to pass for 30,000 yards and 5,000 rushing yards. Not bad for a running quarterback.
No matter what comes from the impending investigation about his murder, I, like many, will remember him for what he was, a persevering football player; someone who took the hits and kept on coming. He could be one of the most unlikely MVP winners of all time, but that season he deserved it. Is he Hall of Fame worthy? That remains to be seen. However, is he one of this generation’s greats? I don’t think that’s even a question.
It always seems fitting that McNair player for a team such as the Titans, because every Sunday he was a Gladiator on the field.