July 4th, 2011 is known as Independence Day for America, but it also happens to be the 2 year anniversary of Steve McNair’s death. I have always felt that McNair was one of the NFL’s best kept secrets. Unless your favorite team regularly played the Titans or you lived in Tennessee, chances were that McNair was not one the QBs that you kept your eye on. He was in fact, one of the toughest quarterbacks to play the game. The national media loved to give Brett Favre attention for being a quarterback that could play through pain time and time again. Though McNair did not carry a prestigious streak like Favre, he was every bit as tough. Regardless of the pain he felt throughout the week, he would be ready to play on Sunday whether he was dealing with a dislocated finger or a bruised sternum.
Steve McNair was born in Mt. Olive, Mississippi in 1973. He was a talented kid and along with playing other positions outside of quarterback, he also played some baseball and basketball in high school. He attended Alcorn State University, an HBCU, and wound up being the 3rd pick in the 1995 NFL Draft.
McNair, along with Heisman trophy winning running back, Eddie George from Ohio State, would become the faces of the franchise as the owner Bud Adams moved the team from Houston to Tennessee. When the team changed its name to the Tennessee Titans and moved to Adelphia Colliseum (now LP Field) in 1999, McNair was the leader of an under the radar team that went from virtual unknowns to 13-3 club and earned a playoff berth. That unheralded team would win three playoff games en route to their first Super Bowl appearance in franchise history. Up against a dangerous Rams team, the Titans would fight back from a 16 point deficit to tie the game and eventually lose on the last play of the game, a play that is simply known as “The Tackle” by Rams linebacker Mike Jones. Despite the loss, McNair turned in one of the gutsiest Super Bowl performances highlighted by a final drive that nearly forced the first overtime in Super Bowl history.
After the 1999 Cinderella run, it was safe to say that the Titans, led by McNair and gritty head coach Jeff Fisher,had become serious contenders in the AFC. In 2002, the Titans would begin the season 1-4, but ended up in the AFC Championship Game against the Raiders where they would falter. The next season would be McNair’s finest as he was named Co-MVP of the league along with Peyton Manning.
The Titans would miss the playoffs in 2004 and the next few years were rebuilding years for the franchise. With McNair aging and injuries mounting, the Titans would eventually trade him in 2006 and start over with QB Vince Young. Though Young may be labeled as a bust during his time in Tennessee, it is worth noting that after McNair’s death, he would go on to be a mentor to his kids by inviting them out on multiple occasions.
McNair went on to lead the Ravens to a franchise-best record 13-3 in 2006, proving that he still had it in him. He retired two years later after years of injuries finally caught up with him.
His death in 2009 caught the whole nation off guard. The circumstances around his death made the situation more difficult not only for the fans but especially his wife Mechelle and his sons. It is impossible to talk about the Tennessee Titans without talking about Steve McNair. Under his direction, the Titans went from an obscure team to the most relevant professional sports team in Tennessee. Additionally, his prescence was also felt in the Nashville area as he was active in many community activities.
Here’s the last drive of Super Bowl XXXIV, one of the finest moments in the history of the league, engineered by Steve McNair ..
RIP Air McNair (1973-2009)