Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Steve McNair I'll Always Remember

They buried Steve McNair in Mississippi yesterday. Perhaps this was another case of a celebrity funeral where encomiums go overboard and on-field heroics get badly confused with off-field heroics, but I wanted to say something about him anyway.

Steve McNair was somewhere he shouldn't have been with someone he shouldn't have been with. His life off the field apparently wasn't something to always admire, but the two deaths and the result of children left fatherless are still tragedies. That's all I'm going to say about that. I just wanted to write for a moment about a player and how he was perceived as a teammate.

My son and I always liked Steve McNair (who had just recently retired) as a football player. He was a gutsy quarterback with the heart of a lion which was often enough to make up for just a slight lack of capabilities compared to other upper-echelon QBs . We both considered him our favorite quarterback of the 2000s after Tom Brady.

There were a lot of great moments in his career, but the performance I remember best was the AFC Divisional Playoff game on January 10th 2004 between the Tennessee Titans and the New England Patriots up here in Gillette Stadium.

The "Big Chill." It was absolutely freezing that night. The coldest game ever played in Foxboro.

McNair was the co-MVP in the NFL that year, and with the Pats opening up a slim 3-point lead with four minutes left in the game, I was still afraid that McNair was going to rally the Titans, even though he was clearly suffering from an ankle bone-spur injury and the Pats were playing quite well. He was being blitzed mercilessly, but it wasn't his fault they didn't win. In a series of passes to 6-5 receiver Drew Bennett, it looked like he would captain the Titans to a comeback victory, but Bennett dropped a ball that was put right in his hands (see the end of the video).

Bennett, an undrafted free agent out of UCLA who became a starting receiver with the Titans, stood before his locker after the game and answered repeated questions about the final play. Yes, the ball hit his hands. Yes, he outjumped the defensive back. Yes, he just dropped the ball.

"It's definitely an image that will stick with me throughout the offseason," Bennett said.

McNair went over and talked to Bennett, and the quarterback said one play wouldn't change his perception of him as one of his great receivers. Bennett said it was his fault.

"He put it right there for me, too," Bennett said.
The Patriots went on to win the AFC Title and the Super Bowl that year. Steve McNair never made it back to the Super Bowl, having led the Titans there once in the 1999 season, losing to the St. Louis Rams.


cowboyangel said...

Yeah, what another needless tragedy.

Like you, I admired McNair as a player and team leader. One of the toughest QBs I've ever seen. (Though, to be honest, I did wonder about the frequency of injuries he had to "play through.")

Sad story.

Jeff said...

Hi William,

(Though, to be honest, I did wonder about the frequency of injuries he had to "play through.")

Yeah, he could be like that. It was kind of like what Bruschi said in that article:

"When he started limping, everyone was like, `C'mon Steve. Everyone knows you're OK,"' Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi said. "He gets hit and keeps coming."