I remember Steve McNair.
The first time I've heard of McNair was when I watched his highlights on SportsCenter carving up defenses while playing at Alcorn State. He accounted for 647 total yards and threw eight touchdown passes against Tennessee-Chattanooga.
At the time, I never heard of McNair, or Alcorn State, but I was intrigued. I was wondering what would come of "Air" McNair.
Later on in his senior campaign, he would see his stock rise, as he became an All-American, a winner of the Walter Payton Award, and finish third in the Heisman voting. He also accounted for an incredible 53 touchdowns.
He was the third pick in the 1995 NFL Draft by the Houston Oilers. The fact that he came from a I-AA school and drafted that high really sent a message to the rest of the league and the fans of the NFL.
He would prove that his third place finish in the Heisman voting wasn't a fluke and maybe he should have held the trophy.
He spent two years backing up Chris Chandler, while starting and winning two games in his rookie season.
When the Oilers moved to Tennessee in 1997, I was able to get a good look at "Air" McNair. He became the full-time starter, which became a title he would never relinquish. He went 16-16 in his first two years at Tennessee, throwing for 2665 yards his first year as a starter and 3228 yards in his second year starting. The fans were seeing him progress and he became a fan favorite.
However in 1999, his legend began to grow as he led the Titans to a 13-3 record and a berth in the Super Bowl. It was in that game that Titan fans, as well as the rest of the NFL, experienced the toughness that McNair would be known for.
Down 23-16, with 1:48 left in the game, one timeout, and 88 yards to go, McNair would orchestrate a masterful drive.
Using his arm and his feet, he would march the Titans down the field to the St. Louis 26-yard-line. On 3rd-and-5 with 22 seconds left remaining, McNair had probably the best quarterback escape in Super Bowl history before Eli Manning's in Super Bowl XLII. Wrapped up by two defensive linemen, was able to stay on his feet, then delivered a 16 yard strike to Kevin Dyson, burned their last timeout, and leaving five seconds remaining in the game.
The Titans would eventually lose that game at the one-yard line, but the Titan fans couldn't ask for anything more than what McNair would give them. Although the Titans haven't been to the Super Bowl since then, he would give the fans memories that would last a lifetime.
We watched him put up Pro Bowl numbers from 2000 to 2003, throwing for more than 3000 yards and over 20 touchdowns in each of those years.
He led the Titans to a memorable run in 2002, where they won 11 out of 12 games. They had a six game winning streak before losing to the Oakland Raiders in the AFC Championship.
His best year came in 2003, when he was named the Co-MVP. He had a QB rating of 100.4, throwing for 24 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He led the Titans to a 12-4 record (going 10-4 as a starter), losing to the eventual champion New England Patriots in the Divisional Playoffs.
On a side note, it was probably his best year in the Madden NFL video game series after the roster update.
He orchestrated 19 fourth quarter comebacks, where the Titans tied, or took the lead in the final two minutes of play.
He was elected to the Pro Bowl three times.
He played through more injuries than a typical quarterback would go through in a career. I remember hearing McNair not being able to practice, but somehow, some way, you would see No. 9 on the field on Sundays. Bruised sternums, bad back, fractured pinkies, turf toe, you name it, and he played through it like he wasn't hurt at all.
It broke the hearts of the Titan fans to see him play for the rival Baltimore Ravens in 2006. He would later retire at the end of 2007 season. He finished his career throwing for 31,304 yards and 174 touchdowns. A shoe-in for the Hall of Fame. We thought it was bad when the front office let him go.
Then on July 4, 2009, it got worse.
We lost our quarterback for good.
He was 36 years old.
When I first heard the news, I was in a state of shock, I couldn't believe it.
McNair was without a doubt, the most beloved Titan to ever put on the uniform. He represented the organization, as well as the city of Nashville, with class and dignity, that we will not see for a long time.
His efforts in the community and the legacy he leaves behind will never be forgotten.
He will never have to worry about being in pain like he did throughout his career.
Looks like he will still hold true to his nickname, "Air" after all.
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