Former Tennessee Titans QB Steve McNair was a legend on and off the field during his time with the team, and he will continue to represent everything great about the franchise long after his demise.
On Valentine’s Day in the year 1973, a boy named Steve McNair was born. On Independence Day of 2009, McNair’s life was tragically taken from him. Today, McNair would’ve turned 45 years old. His story is one worth talking at length about, but whoever watched him play knows that his actions spoke louder than words.
McNair was born and raised in Mount Olive, Mississippi, where he was a multi-sport star. McNair was a two-player when it came to football, as he was his high school’s starting quarterback and free safety. McNair picked off 30 passes over his high school career, and led his team, on both offense and defense, to a state championship in his junior season.
Recruited by the University of Florida, McNair chose Alcorn State University over the Gators because he wanted to play quarterback, a position the Gators believed didn’t suit him as well as running back. McNair broke all kinds of records at Alcorn State, and culminated his illustrious collegiate career with a 1994 season in which he accumulated 6,281 combined yards and scored 56 total touchdowns. He was named the best division two player of the year and finished third in Heisman Trophy voting.
McNair parlayed his stellar college football career into becoming the third overall pick in the 1995 draft. Houston Oilers head coach Jeff Fisher was assuming the role of full-time head coach after operating under an interim title the season prior, and he needed a franchise quarterback. McNair was that and more for 11 seasons in Houston and Nashville.
Fisher opted to “develop” McNair for two years before unleashing him as the full-time quarterback in 1997, a year in which the Oilers moved from Houston to Tennessee. McNair was an extremely dangerous dual threat quarterback in his first two seasons as a starter, and he led the newly named Tennessee Titans to the Super Bowl in his third season despite missing five games due to injuries.
Ultimately, the Titans came up short in The Big Game, but McNair’s effort was the stuff of legends. Down 23-16 with just 1:48 left to play and the ball on the 12-yard line, the odds were stacked against him and the Titans. Two quick completions and a 12-yard McNair scramble with a facemask penalty added on to it had the Titans in business. On 3rd and 5 from just inside field goal range, McNair scrambled all around the pocket, somehow evaded two tacklers bearing in on him and completed a 16-yard strike to Kevin Dyson to get the Titans to the 10-yard line with six seconds left. I’ll spare what happened on the final play.
McNair made the Pro Bowl the following season, but his magnum opus came in 2003, when he was named Co-MVP of the NFL for a season in which he completed 62.5% of his passes for 3215 yards and scored 31 total touchdowns, despite missing two games. McNair played the Pro Bowl again in 2005, but it would end up being his final season with the team before being traded to the Baltimore Ravens as the Titans grew wary of dealing with McNair’s annual injuries.
After an injury-shortened season in 2007, McNair retired from professional football. He left behind a bevy of memories not only for Titans fans, but for football fans in general.
Whenever someone asks me why or how I became a Tennessee Titans fan, I always mention the effect Steve McNair had on me. His ascent to stardom and his performance during the 1999 Super Bowl run captivated me. The way he played the game was unique, and his tenacity and effort was unrivaled by any player I had seen–and am yet to see–in any sport. He was a true warrior. And his aura will remain felt by the Titans franchise forever.