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Monday, July 13, 2009
Mailbag: On slotting McNair short of Hall of Fame

By Paul Kuharsky
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Several of you were upset that I agreed with the strong opinion Jamison Hensley and Jim Wyatt found as they reported stories about Steve McNair's chances for the Hall of Fame are slim.

As I pointed out last week, Doug Farrar crunched McNair's numbers for The Washington Post and concluded his body of work is most similar to those of Phil Simms (not a Hall of Famer), Steve Bartkowski (definitely not a Hall of Famer) and Jim Kelly (a Hall of Famer). That's not the definitive statement on the matter, but it's interesting.

Jack in Memphis, TN wrote: I personally think the "NFL Hall of Fame" needs to be renamed. If someone like McNair doesn't have a very good chance because of lack of statistics or lack of titles then it is the "Hall of Leading Statistics and Championships", not "Fame". McNair was an intensely beloved quarterback and he was just murdered in what will be an infamous happening in the NFL for many years to come. How much more "Fame" can be derived from that?? I can't tell you ANYTHING about 75% of the people in the HOF because they're stories were limited to their time. Steve McNair's story will live in infamy for ages and no one will ever decline to reference McNair because he didn't win a Super Bowl. McNair will be more famous than nearly every single player in the HOF before it's over with.

Paul Kuharsky: I think you are being a little literal with the word fame. It's fame based on football performance, not anything else.

The circumstances of McNair's death shouldn't have -- and won't have-- any bearing on him as a candidate. And to suggest that because he was murdered he is now more famous, and that because he is more famous he is more Hall-worthy, strikes me as a weak argument for his inclusion.

Intensely beloved? Being popular and well-liked is also not something that should get you in the Hall of Fame. Yankees fans intensely love Paul O'Neill, they consider him a huge piece of a wonderful era for the team, but they know he's not a Hall of Famer.

McNair is not a Hall of Famer. He simply was not one of the elite quarterbacks of his generation. If you rank him with Dan Marino, John Elway, Steve Young, Troy Aikman, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady or even Kurt Warner and Donovan McNabb then I think you are being overly emotional about it. All those guys rank ahead of him.

His toughness and competitiveness and ability to perform in the clutch were all excellent and admirable, and he's a historical figure for several reasons, among them his status as the first African-American quarterback to win the MVP award. All of which, by my calculations and the calculations of many others, means McNair deserves a spot in the Hall of Good.


Tee in Greensboro, NC writes: How in the world can you say that McNair is not a HOFer. I never had to think twice about it, I just figured it would be. He was one of the elite quarterbacks his entire career. Almost any team in the league would have taken him over their quarterback while he was in the league. I know he didn't win any Super Bowls but, he was one of the best ever not just for his time but, for all time.

Paul Kuharsky: "Almost any team in the league would have taken him over their quarterback." Except for the teams with Marino, Elway, Young, Aikman, Favre, Peyton Manning, Brady, Warner and McNabb.

That's nine guys I would rank him behind off the top of my head. So you think the 10th best quarterback of his era should be in the Hall? That would put quarterbacks from 31 percent of NFL franchises from the timeframe of McNair's career in Canton. That's way too many. That would be incredibly watered down.

You have to be among the very best at your position to get in. He was a notch below.


Randall McKinney of Halls, TN writes: I saw your response to the McNair vs. Aikman comment. It's sad that the WHITE SPORTS MEDIA uplifts so many quarterbacks for the great prowess of the many weapons they have around them. Guys that get open and get separation consistently and in the clutch are INVALUABLE. And this idiotic way of measuring QB's by Super Bowl rings is preposterous. Trent Dilfer, Eli, Doug Williams, Hostetler, Rypien. It's laughable that Troy Aikman is in the HOF. He was probably the worst of the 11 players on the offense.

Paul Kuharsky: What's sad is that you have to make it about race.

Aikman won three Super Bowls. McNair none. That is a huge difference, and I struggle to see any of that as a black and white issue. If it was the other way around, McNair would be a shoo-in and Aikman would be out. The one-shot wonder Super Bowl quarterbacks you list are obviously not Hall of Famers either, and you won't find that I've suggested otherwise anywhere.

I covered all but McNair's rookie season with the Oilers/Titans. Don't you think I'd lean towards giving a guy I saw up close the benefit of the doubt if I thought it was close?

You can't put McNair, or anyone, in the Hall of Fame, based on who they didn't have around them, just as you can't keep Aikman out because of who he had around him. The teams around those quarterbacks were not in their control, but they are a giant part of the story. If that's bad luck, bad timing, bad circumstances, so be it -- they "suffer" or "benefit" from that context. We judge players on what they did, not on what they could have done if they played with Jerry Rice.

UPDATE: I got this when I checked my mailbag Monday evening after this entry had been up a good while, but thought it deserved to be added as a capper:

Matt Howard from New York, NY writes: Just read the mailbag about McNair and the HOF issue. I agree with you - he's probably not HOF bound. I'm a huge McNair fan, but I think people may be confusing the difference between a player who leaves his mark on an organization vs a player who leaves his mark on the game of football. Can the story of the Titans' franchise be told without Steve? No way, and I'd support retiring his je
rsey for that reason. Can the story of the NFL be told without him? Probably so. I'd love to see him in, and I like to think that the "intangibles" do count for something - but the tangibles can't be thrown out. Good stats and no championship are tough to outweigh. Give him a bronze statue at LP field. He never exaggerated his own importance, and it wouldn't honor his legacy for us to start doing so now.