‘A Hero To Me’

By David Climer
Updated: July 13, 2009

NASHVILLE — Vince Young put this one right on target.

Speaking at the memorial service for his mentor, Steve McNair, on Saturday in Hattiesburg, Miss., a tearful Young looked at Tyler and Trenton McNair and said:

“I used to walk, talk and try to be like Steve every day. And to see you all sitting right there, my brothers, I want to let you know I am here … if you need me for anything, the same thing he did for me, I am here for you all.”

We can only imagine what the last few days have been like for Young. He referred to the fallen former Titans quarterback as “a hero to me.” His loss is great, his grief profound.

As we finally step back from the sad, sordid drama surrounding McNair’s death, we begin to see a bigger picture. One thing that comes into focus is the unique relationship between McNair and Young.

A couple of days after McNair’s death, Titans Coach Jeff Fisher recalled that he recently had spoken with McNair about spending some time at training camp. McNair seemed agreeable.

On the surface, this was a way of accommodating McNair’s occasional hints that he might like to get into coaching on some level. But the immediate goal was to put McNair in direct contact with Young during camp. There, he could work directly with V.Y. on the practice field and in meetings while also serving as a counselor.

At best, it could have been a breakthrough for Young, who fell out of favor last season and enters training camp competing with Patrick Ramsey for the No. 2 quarterback position behind incumbent Kerry Collins.

If nothing else, it would have been an opportunity for Young to bounce ideas off a veteran quarterback who understood how cruel life in the NFL could be.

Certainly, we now know that there were a lot of times when McNair dropped the ball off the field. But when it comes to playing quarterback, he was a leader by example.

And Young would have benefited by following his lead.

McNair never ducked the media after a tough game. Young has skipped postgame interviews.

McNair was the consummate teammate. Young sometimes has been distant and withdrawn when things went wrong.

And then there was that incident in the season-opener against Jacksonville last season when Young initially declined to return to the field. You couldn’t keep McNair on the sideline with a restraining order.

Their relationship stemmed from a meeting years ago when McNair, then quarterbacking a franchise known as the Houston Oilers, was summoned to counsel Young. The two developed a lasting bond.

In the weeks prior to the ’06 NFL Draft, it became clear that the Titans planned to use their No. 3 pick on a quarterback. When Young was told of this, he said: “Perfect. Tell Pops to come get me.”

“Pops,” of course, was McNair. To V.Y., the idea of apprenticing under McNair for a season seemed awfully appealing.

But the two never got to play together.

And now Vince Young must try to pull the pieces of his NFL life together without his mentor.