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The Toughest S.O.B. In The Room
PHILADELPHIA — For the second time in less than two months the NFL lost another legendary quarterback as Baltimore Ravens quarterback Steve McNair retired on Thursday afternoon.
The two-time Pro Bowl player (selected four times) will now join fellow Mississippi native and friend Brett Favre in retiring this off-season. In ending his 13-year career, the 2003 co-MVP courageously and humbly spoke in his press conference (see it courtesy of Fox Sports on MSN) of the willingness of his mind to play, but his body not being able play the game any longer.
The 35-year-old passer said, “Coming out and making this decision, it was hard,” “In your mind, you feel like you can play, that you can still compete. But when your mind and your body are not in accord, it’s not going to work in the National Football League”.
“My mind was there. Mentally, I could go out and play. But physically, I couldn’t do it anymore. Not to the capacity that I need to help my teammates win a football game.”
Everyone will always talk about McNair and Eddie George leading the Tennessee Titans within one yard of winning Super Bowl XXXIV against the Rams, but to me one word “warrior” sums up the signal caller.
No matter the injury or opponent, you always knew number No. 9 was going to give you everything he had for sixty minutes. The hard part of being warrior is sometimes toughness can lead you onto the field of battle when maybe taking a rest is a better option.
McNair can now retire/rest on his farm after surviving various injuries including a seperated shoulder, bruised sternum, broken fingers, broken ribs, ankle sprains, and many others to play week in and out week over his career.
McNair said of his resilient play, “Over 13 years, I had a lot of injuries because I played the game physical, because I gave 110 percent every game”.
In looking back, the nation first got a glimpse of McNair’s greatness at Alcorn State where he followed in his older brother Fred’s footsteps earning the nickname “Air McNair”.
He was a unanimous All-American while putting the small HBCU school on the map and causing such a national sensation that ESPN scrambled to show his games on television. McNair finished his stellar college career gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated and finishing 3rd in 1994 Heisman Balloting — still is the highest finish in the competition by a 1-AA player.
Air McNair didn’t leave ASU empty handed as he established NCAA records with 16,823 yards in total offense (14,496 yards passing and 2,327 yards rushing) and averaged an incredible 400.55 yards in total offense per game.
McNair then took his game to the NFL, where some doubters questioned his selection as the third overall pick in the 1995 NFL Draft by the now defunct Houston Oilers.
Early in his career, Air McNair was stuck on the runway for his first couple years in the league as the Oilers wanted him to learn behind Chris Chandler — how crazy does that sound?
But McNair had his breakout season in 1998 leading the newly relocated Tennessee Titans, starting 16 games and setting then career highs in attempts (492), completions (289), yards (3,228), and passing touchdowns (15).
He went on to lead his teams to the playoffs ten times finishing with a respectable 5-5 record and winning the aforementioned 2003 NFL Co-MVP award sharing the honor with Peyton Manning. But it is McNair’s toughness that will be everlasting, highlighted by the season-ending stretch in 2002.
During that stretch McNair cemented his tougher than nails warrior image by starting five straight games to end the season and leading the Titans to the AFC championship game without practicing due to injury.
In the coming days everyone will be around the water cooler debating whether McNair’s career is worthy of a Hall of Fame nod. To me the “warrior” does deserve to get a look by the selection committee as he has the numbers including six 3,000 yards passing seasons on his outstanding resume.
While bridging the gap between Randall Cunningham and today’s athletic quarterbacks, McNair’s career numbers are imperssive with 161 games played, a regular season record of 91-62 as a starter, passing numbers of 2733 for 4544 (60.1 %), 31304 yards with 174 TDs and 119 INTs plus an additional 3590 yards rushing (5th all-time rushing for quarterbacks) and 37 touchdowns.
I believe McNair’s greatest contribution to the NFL was showing how leadership can take many forms. As a younger quarterback he was able to use his legs to get wins and then later in his career he matured into a winning pocket passer.
No matter whether the gritty quarterback’s career ends in Canton or not, the only opinion that matters is that of his beloved teammates.
Former Ravens’ teammate Ray Lewis said it all about his retiring commrade, “There is no greater warrior or player with a bigger heart than Steve McNair”, said Lewis.
“He came into this game and gave it everything he had. He now can walk away with his head held high.”