By Bryan Dietzler
I must admit, I may be a little biased when it comes to the “golden years” of football. I started watching NFL football in 1983 and got to witness many fascinating moments in the game in the early to late 80’s. Then the 90’s arrived and I believe that some of the greatest players in professional football came into the league in at that time. There were guys like Ray Lewis, Brett Favre and Michael Strahan, among many others. These guys came into the NFL in the 1990’s and they took the league by storm.
Then you had those guys that came in and just played well. Hands down, they just played solid football. Perhaps they didn’t get all the credit that they deserved but these guys had a big and positive impact in the NFL. They may not have been hall of fame performers but they were very good football players.
There is one player in particular, that entered the league in 1995 and quietly had a remarkable career. Some think he may not get enough credit for what he did while others feel that maybe he didn’t do enough to earn additional honors and accolades from his time spent in the NFL.
That player was Steve McNair.
Although his death has been labeled as controversial, his life and football career were nothing short of spectacular. I believe, you should not focus on how a person’ life came to an end but more on how they lived their life.
The following is a look at the life and career of one of the most popular and consistent quarterbacks in NFL history. Quietly, McNair had one of the better careers for a quarterback and he deserves some serious consideration and credit.
Stephen LaTreal McNair was born on February 14th, 1973 in Mt. Olive, Mississippi. McNair’s played his high school ball at the high school there in town. McNair not only played football but also played basketball and baseball. He was also a part of the track team.
McNair did play two ways (offense and defense) so in addition to being the quarterback, he was also a free safety. In one season, he intercepted 15 passes. He had 30 total interceptions in his high school career. In his junior season at Mt. Olive, McNair led the team to the State Championship as their quarterback.
Some of the accolades that McNair earned while he was in high school include being named a Super Prep Magazine All-American and being selected as a Mississippi All-State player.
An interesting side note about McNair and his high school career is that he was drafted in the 1991 Major League Baseball amateur draft by the Seattle Mariners. They selected him in the draft’s 35th round. Obviously, we know which path he chose.
When it was time for colleges to come calling, the suitors were few and far between. The University of Florida attempted to bring McNair in but they wanted him to play running back. He didn’t want to do that as he really wanted to play quarterback. The only school that would let him play quarterback (on a scholarship) was Alcorn State University, a Division I-AA school.
McNair’s career with Alcorn State was a good one. He had several nice wins and put up a ton of solid stats. In his senior season, McNair gained 6,000 combined yards both rushing and passing. He also scored 53 touchdowns in his final year in college. He broke other records in the process that year and impressed a lot of people, especially NFL scouts.
Steve ended up winning the Walter Payton Award which honors the best Division AA player in the country. In addition, he was third in Heisman voting behind Ki-Jana Carter and the eventual winner, Rashaan Salaam. Records set by McNair at the FCS level include passing yards (14,496) and total offensive yards (16,283).
The 1995 NFL Draft approached it was thought that McNair would be a high draft pick. The Houston Oilers were sitting there with the third overall selection and they had a lot of interest in him. When he passed by the first two teams in the draft, then head coach Jeff Fisher realized that they had gotten their man. McNair became an Oiler.
In his first season in the NFL, McNair didn’t see much action. His first bit of playing time came in November in a game against the Cleveland Browns. Following that, he participated in games against the New York Jets and the Detroit Lions. The Oilers starter, Chris Chandler, was playing well at that point and, in McNairs’ first season, Chandler was hard to unseat.
McNairs first true starting effort came in the 1997 season (which was the teams’ first in Tennessee). He helped guide that team to an 8-8 record and passed for the most yards in team history (since 1993), with 2,665. He did have 13 interceptions which were the fewest in a single year for the Titans/Oilers. McNair rushed for eight touchdowns which was second behind starting running back Eddie George.
He continued to break his own career records with new highs in completions, attempts, yards and touchdowns. He lowered his interception total and raised his quarterback rating to 80.1.
That season, the team finally changed its name from the Oilers to the Titans and began playing their games in Adelphia Coliseum. McNair started once again but spent some time on the sideline due to an inflamed disc in his back. That injury needed surgery and so he sat out a few games. During the games he missed (five total) his replacement, Neil O’Donnell earned four victories.
Steve came back from his injury and helped Tennessee win seven of its final nine games. They finished with a 13-3 record but did not win their division. The did, however, make the playoffs.
One of the Titan’s shining moments in the playoffs, and in their short history, that year was the Music City Miracle. That play didn’t involve McNair but it helped to vault his team into the Super Bowl where they would face the St. Louis Rams.
If you remember that game you may recall that McNair just about won it. He took the offense on a last minute drive for a touchdown that ended up just short. A last second pass to wide receiver Kevin Dyson came up just inches short of breaking the goal line. The Titan’s hopes for a win were dashed but it looked as if they would return to the big game again sometime soon. With all that talent they had a great chance of making a return visit.
That offseason, Tennessee signed McNair to a six year contract worth 47 million dollars. They clearly planned on keeping him for a long time. Why not? He gave them an excellent shot at getting to the Super Bowl. In addition, he was efficient, productive and he was a star.
The Titans went 13-3 in 2000 but lost to the Baltimore Ravens in the playoffs. In 2001, McNair had his best season statistically. He generated 21 touchdowns, 3,350 passing yards, 264 completions and a had a passer rating of 90.2. McNair did very well on the ground tying for the team lead in rushing touchdowns. He was voted to his first Pro Bowl that year.
Tennessee made the playoffs in 2002 following an 11-5 season. In their playoff game against the Steelers, McNair had his best post season game statistically throwing for 338 yards and two touchdowns. He did have two interceptions. If you recall, this game had a controversial ending which sent the Titans to the AFC Championship game. Tennessee couldn’t get past the Oakland Raiders, however, and missed out on their second Super Bowl appearance.
His life hit a rough patch in between the 2002 and 2003 seasons. He was taken in by authorities after he was found under the influence of alcohol while driving. A little later, he was caught with an illegal weapon. The charges for possession of the weapon were dropped.
Late in 2003, an injured calf kept him out of two games but he had some excellent numbers to finish the season. The most impressive was his quarterback rating of 100.4. That year, McNair shared the NFL’s MVP honors with then Indianapolis Colts star Peyton Manning. But the award wasn’t enough to dull the pain of seeing his team’s Super Bowl hopes dashed at the hands of the New England Patriots in the playoffs. McNair wanted more.
Injuries hit McNair in 2004 as he missed the fourth game of that year with a bruised sternum. He injured the sternum against Jacksonville in the third game. That injury kept him pinned down off and on for the rest of the season and he only played in five games. Next year, he missed some time due to a back injury. He played in 14 games that season.
McNair’s injuries became a flash-point between him and the Titans. The team decided to shut McNair out of their facilities during the 2006 season causing quite a stir. They didn’t want him to do his rehabilitation work in their facility because, if he hurt himself while attempting to recover in their facility, they would have to pay him 23.46 million dollars. Some legal maneuvering happened as the Players Association filed a grievance. An arbitrator ruled that the Titans had went against the contract. He was allowed back.
In April of 2006, the Titans discussed the possibility of trading McNair. McNair’s agent, James Cook, spoke to Baltimore and helped to work out a deal to send him there. After some foot dragging by the Ravens (they thought they could just wait for the Titans to release McNair and not have to trade for him) the deal was finally completed. On June 7th, 2006, McNair was officially a Raven.
The deal was simple. The Ravens sent a fourth round pick from the 2007 NFL Draft to the Titans in exchange for the experienced quarterback.
McNair started each game during the 2006 season but missed parts of two contests. He threw the longest touchdown pass in team history when he connected with wide receiver Mark Clayton on an 89 yard touchdown. That was a very nice highlight of McNairs’ career.
The Ravens won the AFC North in McNairs first year as their quarterback. Baltimore faced Indianapolis in the playoffs and McNair had a poor performance which contributed to a 15-6 Raven’s defeat.
Legal troubles reared their ugly head once again for Steve. Both he and his brother in law were arrested for driving under the influence. Charges were dropped a few months later.
Although he didn’t announce it right away, McNair’s final year would be the 2007 season. He missed some time with injuries and had some ineffective starts. In fact, he started in just six games that year.
He announced his retirement in April of 2008.
Unfortunately, McNair had some bumps along the way in his NFL career but overall, he was another one of those stars from the mid 90’s that people came to admire and someone who had a decent amount of success.
There were some things that McNair did on the side that helped to enhance his image and provide service to the community. In 2001 he helped create the Steve McNair Foundation. The foundation was (and still is) dedicated to assisting underprivileged children using one on one programs along with civic, athletic and educational means available.
The foundation has held a camp where youth can practice their football skills with members of McNairs team or other NFL franchises. This foundation has done well in consistently looking for different means and methods to assist youth in the community and they have helped a lot of kids.
McNair was killed on July 4th, 2009 in a murder/suicide. He left behind his wife, Mechelle and four sons Tyler, Trenton, Steve Jr. and Steven O’Brian Koran McNair.
Steve left a positive legacy for many even though his life may not have ended that way. He was an inspiration for many younger football players who took the field and played in cities and towns across America. He came from a smaller and relatively unknown part of the country and rose up from near nothing to become something big. That has inspired many people.
We need to remember McNair as the football player he was on the field and the giver he was off of it. He quietly had a very good NFL career. Perhaps our greatest memory of him will his just coming up inches short of a Super Bowl championship. We will remember him for his tough running style and the way that he would use his legs to get himself out of trouble.
There are so many good memories of Steve McNair.
Steve McNair, someone that was a big time player in the 1990’s and 2000s, will live with us forever. We won’t forget what he gave us and the NFL.