Tennessee Titans: 30 greatest players in franchise history
By John Buhler
- NFL MVP (2003)
- 3x Pro Bowl (2000, 2003, 2005)
- NFL passer rating leader (2003)
- Second-Team All-Pro (2003)
- 76-55 in 131 career starts for Oilers/Titans
Steve McNair is a legend in Titans lore. While he played his last two NFL seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, McNair was a superstar with the Oilers/Titans for well over a decade. Drafted No. 3 overall out of Alcorn State, McNair was a gifted playmaker with his arm and his legs for years in the NFL.
Though a Heisman finalist with the Braves, it would take until his third NFL season for McNair to become the franchise’s full-time starter. He played sparingly during his first two years in Houston, backing up Chris Chandler in 1995 and 1996.
Then in 1997, the Oilers’ first year in Tennessee, McNair was the opening day starter, a role he had with the team through the 2005 NFL season. While the Oilers only hovered around .500 during his first two years as the starting quarterback, it was only a matter of time before McNair entered his prime in the early 2000s.
McNair famously was the quarterback of the 1999 AFC Championship team that went all the way to Super Bowl XXXIX. He was 9-2 as a starter that fall, completing 56.5 percent of his passes for 2,179 yards, 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Those numbers aren’t great, but that 1999 helped catapult McNair to greatness the following season.
McNair made his first of three career trips to the Pro Bowl in 2000. He went 12-3 as a starter, completing 62.6 percent of his passes for 2,847 yards, 15 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Tennessee may have never gotten back to the Super Bowl with him as quarterback, but he quickly became the franchise cornerstone after relocating to Nashville from Houston.
2003 was McNair’s finest year as a professional. He led the NFL in passer rating at 100.4, as well as yards per attempt at 8.0. This was the third year in a row that McNair threw for over 3,000 yards in a season, as he finished with 3,215. He completed 62.5 percent of his passes for 24 touchdowns and only seven interceptions.
Most importantly in that season, he was named NFL Co-MVP along with Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. Given that Manning was a more prolific passer in his illustrious career for the AFC South rival Colts, Manning would be First-Team All-Pro that season at quarterback, while McNair had to settle for Second-Team.
In what was his last season with the Titans, McNair made his third and final trip to the Pro Bowl. Injuries and issues with the Titans organization ultimately led him to spending his last two years in the NFL with the Ravens, retiring after the 2007 campaign at age 34.
Most sadly, McNair was killed in what was a murder/suicide by his then-mistress on July 4, 2009 in Nashville. McNair was only 36 years old. It was a tragedy that shocked the entire NFL world, as McNair was only a year and change from last playing for the Ravens.
His murder certainly complicates his legacy. Overall, McNair was a brilliant playmaker with the Oilers/Titans for 11 seasons. He brought Titans fans tremendous joy watching him play his own brand of backyard football. Though probably not a Pro Football Hall of Famer, don’t let anybody tell you otherwise that McNair is an undeniable football legend in the Music City.