The details of the unexpected death of former Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens QB Steve McNair are still forthcoming. Recently retired, McNair was far from the public spotlight and, on a Fourth of July weekend where so much was going on in sports and in world news, the former NFL co-MVP couldn’t have been more distant from the minds of people everywhere.
But in an age where news spreads like wildfire because of texting and smartphones, sports fans Saturday across the country were turning to each other poolside, beer in hand, asking, “Did you hear that Steve McNair died?”
In light of all the recent celebrity deaths, including the one that STILL continues to make front page headlines and lead newscasts, the death of a quarterback who is only a borderline hall-of-fame player probably doesn’t resonate with a whole lot of people. The reaction of the people I was with ranged from “Wow, that’s pretty crazy” to “Who’s Steve McNair?” to “Is there any more of that summer brew drink you made left?” The world did not stop for the death of Steve McNair.
But that doesn’t mean that his passing is not significant in the football world, particularly for Titans fans and, to a lesser extent, Ravens fans (myself included).
McNair entered the league in 1995, at a time when the black quarterback was still not an established facet of the NFL. Faced at times with intense media pressure and racial epithets hurled his way in Houston and then in Nashville when the team moved, McNair faced challenges that would tested the resolve of the league’s mentally toughest. McNair would prove over the next decade that he was not only mentally tough, but physically tough in ways that very few NFL players have ever proven to be.
Every week, Air McNair was a walking medical clinic. I remember a graphic shown during a game of all of McNair’s injuries, and seemingly every part of his body had been in some way banged up (the link above in this paragraph has one of those very charts). The fact that he played for as long as he did, and as well as he did, is probably some sort of medical miracle. McNair was also involved in one of the greatest Super Bowls ever played, with one of the most exciting finishes in all of sports:
So how will McNair be remembered, now that he’s gone? For now, it seems that he is leaving behind a positive legacy, one of a tough, humble player who was a great teammate. McNair did not burn bridges with the teams he played for. For proof, just read articles in The Tennessean and The Baltimore Sun.
Of course, details may emerge, once investigations are done into the deaths of McNair and his “friend” Sahel Kazemi that may not reflect too well on McNair. Nobody quite knows what happened early Saturday morning on the 4th of July, but regardless of the details that emerge, this is a tragedy. McNair leaves behind children who will now grow up with only memories of their father, the NFL star.
Whatever may come to light about McNair’s personal life in light of these investigations, it should not take away from his on-field accomplishments. He was beloved in Tennessee, where he became the face of a newly-located franchise. He was respected in Baltimore, where he gave hope that the Ravens could win with offense. And his mobility, toughness and passing prowess gave hope and even more legitimacy to the evolution of the black quarterback, further paving the way for fans and teams to embrace the Donovan McNabb’s, Daunte Culpepper’s and Michael Vick’s of the football world.
We’ll all follow the investigation into McNair’s death. I, for one, and hoping that he is exonerated of any wrong-doing in the events that may have led up to the shootings.
McNair will always hold a place in NFL history for his performance in Super Bowl XXXIV. Here’s to the hope that his legacy is further cemented as one of the league’s toughest players, and a man who further opened the door for a generation of black quarterbacks to follow.