AFC South: McNair story

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

From what I've seen, heard and read, Vince Young did a very nice job gathering himself and making comments at Steve McNair's final memorial Saturday in Mississippi before McNair was buried in a private ceremony.

After a tough start, his voice cracking and tears in his eyes, Young gave a speech that was fluid and solid. He said he'd looked for guidance from McNair on virtually every big decision since McNair became a mentor to him after they met at a football camp.

And with McNair's death leaving four boys without a father, Young made a pledge to them similar to the one Derrick Mason made at a Nashville memorial on Thursday.

"I used to walk, talk and try to be like Steve every day," Young said, according to Jessica Bliss. "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."

Doing what they can to provide father figures for those kids seems an especially important piece of what teammates can do to try to honor McNair's memory.

How Young will recover from such devastating news has been a popular question and is impossible to predict. It will make his story in training camp, where Patrick Ramsey could challenge him for the backup job behind Kerry Collins, even more compelling.

The Titans report in just 20 days and will hold their first practice in three weeks.

Contemplating Jan. 30, 2010

July, 10, 2009
7/10/09
4:08
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

It's a thought that came back to me repeatedly Thursday as I talked to former teammates of Steve McNair at his memorial:

In six months, the Titans will celebrate the 10th anniversary of their biggest moment -- their appearance in Super Bowl XXXIV. What's that going to be like for them without McNair as a part of it?

"Well, we're going to leave that seat [at the head of the table] open, and we know Steve will be there in spirit because he's with us all," Eddie George said. "We talked about him [Wednesday] night, sharing some great stories. We laughed, we cried. It's going to be different. It's surreal."

"I'm going to try to not even think about that right now," Jevon Kearse said. "He will be missed very deeply by myself and a lot of other people."

"It won't feel the same," Samari Rolle said. "He's the face of Nashville. When you think of Steve McNair, you think of that drive in '99."

Several guys who played with McNair said their indelible image of him will come from "that drive in '99," a play that read like this in the official play-by-play sheet from Super Bowl XXXIV:

 
  AP Photo/Susan Walsh
  Kevin Carter wasn't the only rusher Steve McNair miraculously escaped on the second-to-last play of Super Bowl XXXIV.

3-5-SL 26 (:22) S. McNair (shotgun) pass to K. Dyson to SL 10 for 16 (D. McCleon). QB Pressure by K. Carter and J. Williams

If you saw it, that play-by-play line doesn't do it justice.

"I still point back to the second-last play of that game where Kevin Carter and D'Marco Farr literally have him tackled and have him halfway dragged down to the ground and somehow with the power and strength he had he gets away and delivers the ball downfield to Kevin and gives us a chance to win the game on the last play," kicker Al Del Greco said. "If he gets tackled there, the game is over. It just said what he was all about. He was Superman at times."

Three points about the final two plays of that game, and I am not picking on Del Greco, who's hardly the only person to misremember some details.

  • On that signature play when McNair shed two rushers to stay alive, it's become a habit for many of us to say it was Carter and Farr. But this blog officially offers an apology to Farr, who may have failed to get to McNair but was not brushed aside. Moving forward I pledge to remember the second guy was Jay Williams.
  • The game wouldn't have been over if McNair had been sacked. The Titans would have called their third and final timeout just as they did after the completion to Dyson. But then the last play would have been from around the 26-yard line instead of the 10.
  • Had the Titans scored in either scenario, an extra point would have tied it and forced overtime, not won it.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
 
  AP Photo/George Walker IV, Pool
  Former Titans players, including Brad Hopkins, top left, and Benji Olson, top right, served as pallbearers at the memorial service.

WHITES CREEK, Tenn. -- For all who watched Steve McNair assisted off the field during his 13 seasons as an NFL quarterback, the conclusion of his memorial service was especially tough to digest.

Pallbearers who played with him surrounded his casket, lifted it and carried it out of Mount Zion Baptist Church, surely hoping they were also transporting at least a degree of the pain shared by the family, the franchise, the city and the league.

"That was tough, to carry his casket out," Eddie George said. "Right after they said those kind words, they said the eulogy, reality set back in again, that he has to go to his final resting place. Knowing that's Steve's remains, that's his shell in that casket, that's not Steve, and I'm not going to remember him in that capacity. This is a part of the process, this is closure for us, for me. Now the healing can begin, and I don't know how long it will take."

 
  AP Photo/George Walker IV, Pool
  Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason takes part in a memorial service for Steve McNair.

In his eulogy at the conclusion of a service that included impressive versions of "Press On" and "God is Able," Bishop Joseph W. Walker III called McNair "a humanitarian, a philanthropist, a supreme athlete, a motivator, an entrepreneur." In citing the biblical instruction that one without sin cast the first stone, Walker said it was "time to have a stone-dropping service."

During the memorial, Jeff Fisher told a story of McNair considering giving up the game in 2000 after suffering a sternum injury and conveyed the condolences of a high-ranking military official he met just last week while visiting troops in the Persian Gulf.

Later, the Titans coach said he was sure even more of McNair's old teammates wanted to attend but could not. Fisher said that he might soon take McNair's sons fishing.

Asked about watching George, Samari Rolle, Zach Piller, Kevin Long, Frank Wycheck, Brad Hopkins, Benji Olson, Kevin Carter and Vince Young lift McNair's coffin and walk it out the door, Fisher said he couldn't put words to his thoughts.

"I can't describe that, no," he said.

Plenty of others leaving the church felt the same way.

Count me among them.

***

An add to the previous entry, which included a list of many of the most notable players in attendance. I later spotted several others, including Keith Bulluck, Bo Scaife, Young, Fred Miller, Drew Bennett and Kenny Holmes.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
 
  AP Photo/Mark Humphrey
  Eddie George, right, and Craig Hentrich were among the former teammates to attend Steve McNair's memorial.

WHITES CREEK, Tenn. -- Lance Schulters arrived at Steve McNair's memorial with another former teammate of the fallen Titans quarterback, Robaire Smith.

The two also saw Samari Rolle and Eddie George.

Those four friends always thought they'd be reunited with McNair for happier times.

"That's our seats right there, playing cards all day on the plane," Schulters said, gesturing the circle they'd comprise. "Steve always won the big hands. All the big pots he won. We just joked about that, like 'Man, this is crazy.'"

Instead, they gathered in this suburb north of Nashville, not to shuffle and deal, but to join more than 5,000 others to mourn McNair, who was shot and killed Saturday in a murder-suicide.

"We might feel indestructible and indispensable on the field, but the reality of it is we're all human, and we all have an end," said Kevin Mawae, Titans center and president of the NFL Players Association. "We just don't know when that end is going to come.

"It's a difficult thing to be here. But we're all NFL players and there are not very many of us and when one of us passes under these circumstances or any circumstances, you mourn the loss of that guy. He was a brother in the locker room to many of us."

More than 30 teammates -- Titans past and present -- attended the memorial, as did the franchise's owner, Bud Adams, Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen and Nashville Mayor Karl Dean.

The list of current and former players also includes Derrick Mason, Samari Rolle, Jevon Kearse, Kevin Carter, Frank Wycheck, Yancey Thigpen, Benji Olson, Blaine Bishop, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Jon Runyan, Josh Evans, Justin Hartwig, Al Del Greco, Erron Kinney, Zach Piller, Craig Hentrich, Gary Walker, Joe Nedney, Chris Sanders, Al Smith, Chris Hope and Vincent Fuller.

Current Titans assistant coaches Dave McGinnis, Mike Munchak and Marcus Robertson (who was also a teammate) are also here, as is the team's starting quarterback, Kerry Collins. McNair was drafted third by the Oilers in 1995; Collins fifth by Carolina.

Jeff Fisher will speak during the memorial and is set to talk with the media after it's over.

George said he gathered with 15 or 20 former teammates to remember McNair Wednesday night at The Palm in downtown Nashville

McNair was killed on July 4, which led different players to different thoughts of future Independence Days.

"Here's an opportunity for us to get together every Fourth of July and celebrate his life," George said.

"I know from this point on, my July 4 will never be the same," Kearse said. "I may not even celebrate July 4 from this point on. Instead it will be on July 9 or something like that."

George wrote a poem -- entitled "Where Do Warriors Go?" -- in recent days as he tried to sort through his feelings about McNair's death.

"It was a great question, and based off of that question, these words just started coming out of me and I tried to put it into form," said George, who read the poem at the memorial service. "It was something that I wanted to send off to him, directly speak to him and send him off in the right way. Maybe one day I can recite it for you.

"It's a special place they go to. I don't know the exact place, and that was the question. In it all, he's done his best, right or wrong, and basically it was a message to say, 'You know what, you're free to go into that life, without any judgment. You've done the best you can do and we're going to hold it down here for you.'"

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

WHITES CREEK, Tenn. -- Mt. Zion Baptist Church isn't far from Interstate 24, north of Nashville. The parking lot is lined with orange cones and guides in orange vests, all set up to handle the 5,000-plus people expected to come here to pay their final respects to Steve McNair.

 
  ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
  Mourners wait to enter Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Whites Creek, Tenn. to pay their respects.
The hearse bearing his coffin arrived about 3:30 this afternoon, an hour before the visitation was set to begin. Traffic was stopped briefly on the highway. It won't likely be the last time based on the flow of cars.

An hour after the funeral procession arrived, a thick line of fans snaked from the door up a steep driveway.

Visitors are black and white, young and old, dressed in suits and shorts sleeves, scrubs and shorts, and No. 9 jerseys of every variety: Titans home and away, Ravens black, Oilers blue.

The procession past McNair's closed, silver-colored casket -- covered with white lilies, flanked by large pictures of McNair in a suit, one with him holding a football, the other with the 2003 NFL MVP trophy in hand -- is moving briskly, with no pauses or stops. It will last for nearly three hours.

Dorsey Hamby, 52, had met McNair several times and once signed an autograph for her: "To Dorsey, my greatest fan ever."

"He treated us like we were his best friend," she said, keeping her composure as she headed for the line. As she walked out of the sanctuary, she was dabbing at her tears. "I always thought it'd be me, not him, that maybe they could get him to come to mine."

Members of Omega Psi Phi, McNair's fraternity from Alcorn State, sweated through dark suits as they approached the church and added white gloves as they stood beside the casket.

 
  ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
  Tyron Eason, left, and Namon Anderson are members of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity. The fraternity will pay tribute to McNair, also a brother, with a ceremony Thursday night.

The fraternity will conduct a memorial service for a half hour before the church's memorial begins.

"We have a ritual we abide by when a brother has fallen," said Namon Anderson, 33, an educator who lives in Murfreesboro, Tenn. "We send him to the celestial chapter."

Wreaths and pictures of McNair lined the lobby, along with a giant collage.

McNair's wife, Mechelle, is expected to attend the memorial service. His mother, Lucille, is not. A second memorial is scheduled for Saturday on the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi before his burial.

Titans coach Jeff Fisher and Derrick Mason, who caught McNair's passes as a Titan and a Raven, are among those scheduled to speak here. Eddie George, Frank Wycheck and Vince Young are to be among the pallbearers.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Metro Nashville police spokesman Don Aaron just told local press that the semiautomatic pistol that killed Steve McNair and Sahel Kazemi was purchased by Kazemi on Thursday from a private individual.

Still, police await results of ballistic and gunshot residue testing and Aaron said a classification of Kazemi's death will not be made before those tests are completed.

McNair's death Saturday has been classified as a homicide. He was shot twice in the chest and twice in the head. Kazemi was shot once in the head, and the gun was found under her body.

Police have also said McNair, who was married, and Kazemi were in a "dating relationship" for several months and that she drove a Cadillac Escalade that had a title in both of their names.

The Tennessean's Kate Howard reports that three of McNair's four wounds resulted from gunshots from more than three feet away and that the gun was touching Kazemi's head when it was fired.

Earlier Monday afternoon, Titans coach Jeff Fisher spoke publicly for the first time since returning from a trip to the Middle East to visit with troops.

At Titans headquarters, Fisher and two former teammates of McNair's, Eddie George and Brad Hopkins, urged fans and observers to set aside the circumstances of McNair's death and resist the temptation to judge him.

Find the story I did on that right here.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Some thoughts on Steve McNair as I return from vacation and catch up on developments.

Clutch: McNair often played his best in the game's biggest moments. The Titans worked a lot on two-minute drills in practice, but it was McNair's ability to go away from the script and freelance that helped earn him a reputation as being clutch. I'll try to track down some numbers to illustrate just how good he was when halftime or the final whistle approached.

 
  Wade Payne/Icon SMI
  Steve McNair served as a mentor to younger quarterbacks such as Billy Volek.

As I write this, Eddie George is talking about McNair in two-minute drills on 104.5 The Zone in Nashville:

"He never showed any sign of panic. Steve was always in control, always well aware ... He had such a command, and he knew what to do and where to go with the ball ... It was a beautiful thing to watch."

[Updated, 12:27 p.m.:] This from the Titans on McNair's late-game heroics: "In all, he led 19 drives during his Titans career in which the team tied the game or took the lead with a score either inside the final two minutes of regulation or in overtime. There were 21 occasions, including three playoff contests, he rallied the Titans to victory from a fourth-quarter deficit or tie. The three aforementioned cases had another commonality: Due to various injuries, McNair was listed as questionable to play in the games."

Mentoring: The Houston Oilers drafted McNair with every intention of having him sit and learn for a couple of years. The starter ahead of him in 1995 and 1996, Chris Chandler, was not particularly interested in serving as a top aide to the guy in line to take over his job. (To his credit, Chandler said in the buildup to Super Bowl XXXIII, in which he quarterbacked Atlanta, that he should have handled it differently.)

McNair may have been destined to be different even without what happened, or didn't happen, with Chandler. But through his career, McNair was generous with his time and help with young backups like Kevin Daft and Billy Volek and camp guys like Ron Powlus. He also had healthy relationships with veteran backups like Dave Krieg and Neil O'Donnell.

MVP: He won the MVP award in 2003 along with Peyton Manning based as much on the respect he'd earned among the voters as his performance that season when measured against the man he shared the honor with.

McNair was excellent that season, posting his best passer rating (100.4, 10 points higher than his next best in 2001). But side-by-side with Manning the numbers tilted in the Indy quarterback's direction -- he was better in completion percentage, yardage, touchdowns and interceptions. McNair and the Titans lost both head-to-head matchups with Manning and the Colts that year and tailed off some at the end; McNair missed two of the last three games with ankle and calf injuries.

I always had mixed feelings as to whether it was a good thing that those with a ballot decided to reward McNair nonetheless. McNair as MVP could be taken as a victory for intangibles, toughness and leadership -- but those are qualities Manning certainly has in great quantity as well.

Napping: Some guys habitually throw up before a game. John Henderson liked to get slapped in the face. McNair napped, and it became the singular example of his calm. In a new stadium on the road, it was part of the routine that the equipment guys would stake out a nap setting that would be met with McNair's approval.

When the Titans got bad in his final two years, I thought he might have served the team better to change his routine and spend more pregame time throwing to young receivers who needed to develop. As an established guy, however, it was understandable that his Sunday routine -- which has led to a lot of great play -- was something he didn't feel compelled to alter.

Unflappable: It wasn't just that he was calm and poised. McNair didn't get bent out of shape over much.

He was in line to be the face of the franchise as its first quarterback in Nashville, but was booed by the sellout crowd on opening day against Cincinnati in 1999 when he shook off an ankle injury and returned to the game.

In a game the Titans should have finished much more easily, he ultimately positioned the team for a 33-yard Al Del Greco field goal that won the game, 36-35, with 12 seconds left.

McNair's final line: 21-of-32 for 341 yards, three touchdown passes and an interception; six carries for 27 yards and another touchdown along with a lost fumble.

Nashville felt guilty in the following days, with some fans putting up apologetic signs outside the team's facility and others chipping in to have a plane fly over practice pulling a banner with a supportive message.

Funny: I wish I could find what I wrote for The Tennessean at the time, but my single best example of McNair's good humor and laid-back brand of fun came before a practice at the team's temporary facility in 1997 or 1998.

Before practice he built a tepee out of blocking bags and mats, and he sat inside, largely unnoticed by teammates heading out for their pre-practice stretch, making noises to suggest he was in deep meditation in his homemade sanctuary.

I expect as the week unfolds I will revisit and expand on some of these themes and find some others to discuss.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
  • Steve McNair's mother says his murder was "the devil's work," according to Jim Wyatt. Also look for Jesse Jackson's statement on the right of this page. It includes this: "Our community, our nation and the National Football League are haunted once again by the easy access to guns. We must stop the easy flow of guns. We must stop the bullets before the bullets stop us."
  • David Climer on McNair's legacy: "From where I sit, McNair will be remembered as a very good NFL quarterback who courageously played through pain and injury, was involved in a number of charitable causes and good works, but whose human frailties and flaws are inextricably tied to his life story."
  • McNair thrived in pain and pressure, often at the same time, writes David Boclair.
  • Some big-shot NFL quarterbacks can learn a lot from McNair, says Pete Prisco.
  • McNair was one of the great class acts in the sport, says Mike Freeman.
  • McNair's leadership set him apart, says Clark Judge, who looks at McNair's 2006 performance in Baltimore.
  • McNair was like former Union general and United States President Ulysses S. Grant, writes KC Joyner.
  • Jay Glazer remembers Michael Strahan versus McNair in college.
  • A resilient McNair earned Nashville's love, writes Clay Travis.
  • Richard Justice says McNair was a pro's pro.
  • Remembering McNair as a Houston Oiler, from Alan Burge.
  • John Oehser remembers McNair's raw strength.
  • Wyatt tracks Keith Bulluck's tweet about McNair.
  • Pro-football-reference.com's McNair page with all his career numbers.

Posted by ESPN.com staff

Courtesy of the Tennessee Titans:

Titans quarterback Vince Young: "I'm still in shock since hearing the news yesterday. I spent all afternoon and night thinking about my life on and off the field with 'Pops.' Since I was a teenager, he was like a father to me. I hear his advice in my head with everything I do. Life will be very different without him.

"My thoughts and prayers are with Mechelle, the kids and the entire McNair family during this horrible time."

Former Titans safety Blaine Bishop: "Yesterday was a sad day for all of us as former teammates and for the Titans organization. Steve was an absolute warrior as a player and brought that mindset to the team. Whether he was hurt or not, he was going to give us everything he had. He was the toughest player that I ever played with during my time in the league and a great man off the field -- always giving. He was just a good country boy who was always laughing and smiling. Yesterday reinforced for me the fragility of life. My heart goes out to his family.

"The thing I will always remember about him was whether it was good or bad on the field, the whole team -- both offense and defense -- believed he would lead us to victory if we could just get the ball in his hands at the end of the game. His leadership skills spoke for themselves and you see everyone that has talked about him touched on that aspect of his game. He will be missed."

Former Oilers quarterback Warren Moon: "Steve and I had a mutually respected friendship. He was one of the great warriors to ever put on a football uniform at any position. His competitiveness and toughness were unparalleled. He was always a gentleman, and very giving off the field. One of the great people in our league was taken from us way to soon. My thoughts and prayers go out to the McNair family and all who knew him."

More reaction from Moon.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Related Content

Former MVP McNair found dead.
Pasquarelli: Ultimate competitor.
Reaction to the news.

Photos from his career.

Video
• Former teammates Derrick Mason, Eddie George and Anthony Dorsett.  

• ESPN's Paul Kuharsky, Tom Jackson and Michael Smith.

As the Tennessee Titans' first starting quarterback, Steve McNair set standards in toughness, competitiveness and accountability that the franchise's quarterbacks will long be measured against.

Current Titans quarterback Kerry Collins is a pro. But any young, homegrown quarterback would be wise to research the McNair model and work hard to follow it.

He played, and played well, despite occasionally missing weeks of practice, enduring pain-killing shots that would help him drag a bad ankle or shoulder through a game, taking hits on a badly bruised sternum that made it difficult to breathe, let alone stare down an oncoming pass rusher.

Then, win or lose, no matter how long he had to spend in the trainer's room getting treatment, he would slowly dress and ultimately face the questions, handling them with grace and humor and whatever else the situation may have called for. As in his play, he always seemed to know just how to handle a potentially difficult situation.

And he stood up for his teammates too.

If the middling receiver he threw to on a crucial third down botched a route, you'd never learn about it from McNair. Everything was on McNair, and he never complained about his less than stellar receiving corps. He was the quarterback and he was charged with leading the team to wins no matter the injury, the supporting cast, or the circumstances. He always seemed to me to believe he could and should overcome these obstacles.

He was poised and calm, and those qualities helped others who might have been prone to panic.

McNair was appreciated for the way he handled himself. He helped a reinvented team make its only Super Bowl trip in its first season as the Tennessee Titans and earned a share of the MVP award in 2003. He rallied support for Hurricane Katrina victims in and around his home in Mississippi. He accepted responsibility when he faced a drunken driving charge that ultimately disappeared.

He already has a spot in the team's new ring of honor. But he hardly needed his name imprinted on a spot inside LP Field to leave an indelible mark.

Paul Kuharsky talks about Steve McNair's impact in Nashville and reflects on the quarterback's career. 

The latest on the story is here.

More reaction to McNair's death:

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

New England Patriots senior football advisor Floyd Reese issued a statement about the death of quarterback Steve McNair. The three-time Pro Bowl quarterback was found dead from a gunshot wound to the head at a downtown Nashville condominium.

Reese was the general manager who drafted McNair for the Houston Oilers third overall in 1995.

"I am deeply saddened to learn of today's tragic news regarding the death of Steve McNair. He was a player who I admired a great deal. He was a tremendous leader and an absolute warrior. He felt like it was his responsibility to lead by working hard every day, no matter what.

"I don't think there was a player who played with him or against him that didn't look up to him and respect him. My heartfelt condolences go out to his family, his friends and the many teammates who loved and admired him."

Posted by ESPN.com staff

  McNair

Former Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair has been killed.

McNair, 36, suffered a fatal gunshot wound to the head in downtown Nashville, police spokesperson Don Aaron said.

The news story is here.

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