Rejuvenated: McNair Breathes “Air” Into Ravens

By Thomas George
Updated: June 10, 2006

DENVER — “It’s not where you come from or where you go – it’s what you do when you get there.”

Steve McNair in 1994, during his senior season at Alcorn State “Son, you’re our man. You’re our future.”

Oilers/Titans owner Bud Adams, to McNair at the 1995 NFL draft “I think today we are a better football team than we were yesterday.”

Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome Thursday, upon McNair’s signing The Baltimore Ravens are transformed, set for a lively ride. This is a franchise that matters once again, now that former Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair is secured.

Baltimore won Super Bowl XXXV in 2001 with Trent Dilfer at quarterback.

Last season the Ravens were 6-10. They missed the playoffs for the second straight season.

Even as Super Bowl champs, the Ravens flaunted defense and skimped on offense. In recent games we watched their offense collapse as Kyle Boller flopped.

We saw this firsthand at Invesco Field at Mile High, when the Ravens flew in here in early December and flapped home after a 12-10 loss in which Boller looked hopeless.

The Ravens are not getting the Steve “Air” McNair who could juke defenders all game, wing it on the run and take a pounding.

He did that for 11 Titans seasons, the last nine as the primary starter. The bruises and surgeries and simply time – he turned 33 in February – limit that.

But they do get an experienced version of his character, poise, skills and indiscriminate delivery of passes to a variety of receivers short and long.

And that goes a long way.

If they can just keep him standing.

He has not made 16 starts in a regular season since 2002. He has practiced scarcely in recent years.

Even so, the guy made the Pro Bowl last year (3,161 passing yards, 16 touchdowns, 11 interceptions). And that was with a young team around him, a new system and a new offensive coordinator.

He was a whiz at Alcorn State, was the face of the franchise in Tennessee and now is a savior of sorts in Baltimore.

He always thought he would finish his career as a Titan.

That was until he was recently locked out of the building when he tried to train.

Eleven years ago, owner Bud Adams sent his private jet to New York to greet him on NFL draft day. In the end, the Titans locked the doors and hid the keys.

For a country boy from Mount Olive, Miss., where the place he calls home owns his heart, that was a dagger in it.

The Titans say it was nothing personal. Had McNair been hurt while working out, they would have owed him $24 million on the spot. And since they were in negotiations to find a reasonable contract number for both, they say their hands were tied.

Because it got to that point, because the Titans did not solve this issue earlier, because McNair had dutifully and faithfully restructured his contract many times over the years to help the club provide cap space and improve, the Titans look like the villains who supplied their own rope.

“We sat down with his agent for a couple of hours on Monday and it was clear that we could possibly match the Baltimore dollars but not the structure,” Titans general manager Floyd Reese said of McNair’s new five-year deal that gives him an $11 million signing bonus and a $1 million salary this season. “Steve was our only quarterback here in Nashville. This is like watching your first child go off to college. It hurts.”

Easing the pain is Vince Young, the Texas whiz, the third pick in the recent NFL draft. McNair was a No. 3 pick, too.

Give the Titans this: They have done more than any franchise in modern times to destroy myths about black quarterbacks being unworthy to lead NFL teams. It could be that for a 20-plus-year period, the dominant face of this franchise’s quarterback is a black one.

When you think about where black quarterbacks have been, where they are and where they are going, this is historical. It tells me that no franchise, in this regard, is more progressive than these Titans.

The Broncos have always found the Ravens to be a nuisance. With McNair, Baltimore could give the Broncos fits when the Ravens travel here on Oct. 9 or in any postseason matchup.

The Broncos are fortunate that new offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger is freshly aboard. He coached McNair with the Titans. He knows his weaknesses.

But like Titans coach Jeff Fisher, he also knows his strengths.

It was Fisher who said about Baltimore’s trip to Tennessee on Nov. 12, when asked if it was possible he could show McNair something he had not seen before: “The best we can do is hope he has forgotten something.”

Not a thing.

Not about his perceived lousy treatment.

Not the way to make a new house his home.

This is a man who took the land in Mississippi where his mother once picked cotton and bought that land and 643 acres around it and built his home, plus a six-bedroom, 7 1/2-bathroom home for his mother, Lucille.

This is a man who graduated from a high school class of 42. One who grew up feeding chickens, pigs, dogs, cats and goats on a farm. One who picked peas, greens, okra and squash at 5 a.m. in order to be at school by 8 a.m.

One who relishes roots.

One who knows how to turn endings into beginnings.