Voters: McNair not bound for Canton

By Jamison Hensley
Updated: July 7, 2009

BALTIMORE — Barring a change of mind by voters, former Ravens quarterback Steve McNair will not be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In The Baltimore Sun’s poll of selectors this week, the three-time Pro Bowl player would fail to gain the 80 percent approval needed to get elected.

Fifteen of the 22 voters who responded to The Sun — which is half of the 44-member committee — said they didn’t consider McNair a Hall of Fame quarterback because he lacked elite career numbers.

McNair, who was shot and killed Saturday, is eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2013.

“I didn’t consider McNair a Hall of Fame candidate before he died and don’t consider him one now,” said Paul Domowitch of the Philadelphia Daily News. “His numbers are nowhere close to being Hall of Fame-worthy.”

In 13 seasons with the Ravens and Tennessee Titans, McNair finished with a pedestrian 60.1 completion percentage and an 82.8 passer rating (in comparison, Jeff Garcia’s career passer rating is 87.5).

Domowitch noted that McNair never had a season in which he threw 25 or more touchdowns and never threw for more than 3,400 yards in a season.

“Good quarterback? Yes,” he said. “Canton material? No.”

One unnamed voter said McNair wasn’t in the same class as Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Brett Favre, the top quarterbacks of this era.

“I think Steve McNair deserves consideration for the Hall of Fame,” the unnamed voter said, “but ultimately I think he belongs like Joe Theismann, Ken Anderson and Boomer Esiason in the hall of the very good.”

Among the seven other voters, five were undecided and only two said they would definitely cast a ballot in favor of McNair.

Supporters for McNair say his play defied statistics. Considered one of the toughest quarterbacks in NFL history, McNair hobbled into the huddle only to break tackles when it mattered the most. Calm under pressure, he built a reputation on willing his teams to victories in the fourth quarter.

“If you base it on production and achievement alone, it might be difficult to make a case for McNair being a Hall of Famer,” said Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune. “But if you consider the intangibles he brought to his teams, he becomes a more legitimate candidate.”

One undecided voter seemed to be leaning toward giving McNair the nod, but he said the 2003 co-NFL Most Valuable Player still wouldn’t make the cut.

“I think Steve was a tremendous quarterback,” the unnamed voter said, “but I don’t think he’ll get in based on the criteria by which quarterbacks are judged: Super Bowls and statistics.”

McNair’s career record is 91-62, a winning percentage of .595. He led his teams to the playoffs in five of his 13 seasons. He also helped change the landscape for NFL quarterbacks.

Following the likes of Randall Cunningham and Warren Moon, McNair continued to make in-roads for African-American quarterbacks. He is one of only five quarterbacks in NFL history to have thrown for 20,000 yards and rushed for 3,000 yards.

Still, one voter said McNair “comes up a little short.” Another voted added, “Nice stats, no titles. Good guy, very sad.”

Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union said the argument against McNair goes beyond the fact that he didn’t win any championships.

When the Titans advanced to their only Super Bowl under McNair (1999 season), Tennessee was tied for 13th in the league in passing. McNair had 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions that season.

When Tennessee was the top seed in 2000, the Titans were 16th in the NFL in passing. McNair threw 15 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

“The Titans won with defense, and the offense was not built around him,” Stellino said. “If McNair was a Hall of Fame quarterback, then [Titans coach] Jeff Fisher should be blamed for not building more of the offense around his arm.”

Inside the locker room, McNair was revered by teammates for his grit and leadership.

When he retired in April 2008, his Ravens teammates gave him a standing ovation. Samari Rolle, a cornerback who played with McNair on the Titans and Ravens, proclaimed him a “sure-fire Hall of Famer.” Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome called McNair one of the best players in the NFL over the past 20 years.

Some Hall of Fame voters contend otherwise.

“He was real good most of the time and great some of the time,” said John McClain of the Houston Chronicle. “But I don’t think he was great enough long enough.”