NFL Nation: Houston Oilers
“Luv Ya Blue” in Houston with the Oilers was, in many ways, loving Phillips -- his drawl, his style, his hat and the team he coached.
Now the city mourns his passing.
His son, Houston Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips tweeted: “Bum is gone to Heaven-loved and will be missed by all -great Dad,Coach, and Christian.”
As famous sports quotations go, I rank his comment on Don Shula as one of the all-time greats: "He can take his'n and beat your'n and take your'n and beat his'n."
The Oilers lost consecutive AFC Championship games to Pittsburgh to close out the 1970s. In 1980, after a first-round playoff loss, Oilers owner Bud Adams fired Phillips in what he later called one of his most regrettable moves.
This is from David Barron’s obituary of Phillips in the Houston Chronicle:
Former KHOU (Channel 11) sports director Gifford Nielsen, who played quarterback for Phillips in the late 1970s, then worked with him on Oilers radio broadcasts in the 1990s, said Phillips built winning teams by knocking down barriers between players.Update: The Titans sent out this statement today on Phillips' passing:
“He could take a conservative kid out of Utah, put him with a kid who grew up in the projects in Pittsburgh, a guy from Southern California and a guy from the Deep South, and it didn’t matter what color was their skin, how big they were and what their talent level was,” Nielsen said. “He would bring them together as a team.
“The reason people liked Bum so much is because he was real. He always said, ‘Trust me, and we’ll do things my way and great things will happen.’ When we did trust him, we were successful, and it carried over not only to the team but the fans.
“Whenever we went on the road, people wanted to see Bum Phillips, and it was because of the genuine person he is. That is his legacy.”
We are very sad to hear of the passing of Bum Phillips. He meant a great deal to this franchise, the NFL and the city of Houston, and he was instrumental to the Oilers during the ‘Luv Ya Blue’ era. Growing up in Texas and working his way up through the Texas football ranks, he was a natural match for our team. Those were such magical years, and his leadership and personality helped our team rise to the top. He became an iconic figure on our sideline. Our thoughts are with his family, and we know he will be missed.
He knows there are a couple of generations of NFL fans who might not know who he is. But it doesn’t matter, because on Saturday Culp will officially become an NFL immortal when he is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Culp was a Senior Committee nominee.
Culp played for the Kansas City Chiefs from 1968-74. He went on to play seven seasons in Houston and two more in Detroit, but he became known as a dominant interior defensive lineman while with the Chiefs.
Culp, who won the NCAA heavyweight wrestling title while at Arizona State, was a unique player. In the Chiefs’ Super Bowl IV win against Minnesota, Hall of Fame coach Hank Stram put Culp over the center, which opened up plays for future Hall of Famers Buck Buchanan and Willie Lanier. Many people credit it for the beginning of the 3-4 defense.
At 67, Culp is a member of the Chiefs’ Hall of Fame, and he has close ties with the organization.
While the spotlight Saturday will be on NFL household names such as Warren Sapp, Cris Carter and Bill Parcells, Culp, who runs a car service in Austin, Texas, knows he will be a blast from the past when his son Chad presents him into the Canton, Ohio, museum.
“To me, it seems just yesterday,” Culp said in a July phone interview. “But it’s been four decades. That’s a long time. I’m just very grateful to get this honor. It crosses my mind at least once or twice a day. I realize what an honor it is, and it’s very exciting to know that it is finally coming.”
Jack Pardee left a big imprint on Houston and on the franchise that went on to become the Tennessee Titans.
Pardee, who coached the run-and-shoot Houston Oilers, passed away Monday.
Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon had high praise for his old coach in a conversation with John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.
“Coach Pardee was a genuine Texas legend,” Moon said. “He was successful on so many levels. He had such appreciation and respect for the game.
"'How many Texans do what he did?' He starred in high school (Christoval), played for Bear Bryant (Texas A&M), survived Junction and became an All-American. After his playing career (Rams and Redskins) ended, he coached three teams in Texas. That’s about as Texas as they come.”
The Oilers' run-and-shoot had its limitations. But when you see four wide receivers, spread fields and even read options you’re seeing a lot of run and shoot principles at work.
Pardee’s Oilers teams never broke through to a Super Bowl, but they sure were fun to watch.
He will be inducted into the Hall in Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 3, along with six others -- offensive lineman Larry Allen, wide receiver Cris Carter, tackle Jonathan Ogden, coach Bill Parcells, linebacker Dave Robinson, and defensive tackle Warren Sapp. Robinson was the other senior nominee.
Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News presented Culp at the selection meeting, and John McClain of the Houston Chronicle also led the discussion of Culp’s candidacy.
McClain spoke to Culp leading up to selection day.
“I’m anticipating a great outcome,” said Culp, who resides in Austin. “I’m blessed to be in this position. I was part of a Super Bowl winner with the Chiefs, and those Luv Ya Blue teams were special.
“I’m not sure what I’ll be doing, probably pulling weeds and raking the yard.”
Said McClain this week in New Orleans: “Curley was the epitome of a 3-4 nose tackle. Strong, quick, nasty -- an NCAA wrestling champion who could get leverage and keep it.”
“The Oilers traded (defensive tackle) John Matuszak to Chiefs in 1974 for Culp and No. 1 pick they used on outside linebacker Robert Brazile. It was a tremendous trade. Along with Hall of Fame defensive end Elvin Bethea, they were the cornerstones of the Luv Ya Blue defense.”
Culp is the ninth member of the Oilers/Tennessee Titans to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The capsule on Culp from the Hall:
Defensive Tackle … 6-2, 265 … Arizona State … 1968-1974 Kansas City Chiefs, 1974-1980 Houston Oilers, 1980-81 Detroit Lions … 14 seasons, 179 games … Selected in 2nd round (31st player overall) in 1968 draft by Denver Broncos … Denver attempted to switch him to offense before trading him to Chiefs during training camp … Fit in perfectly with Chiefs’ dominating defense … Member of team’s Super Bowl IV championship team in second season … Started at left defensive tackle in Super Bowl win over Vikings and registered three tackles, one assisted tackle … Dealt to Houston Oilers in blockbuster trade during 1974 season … Key veteran leader with 11.5 sacks to help Oilers to 10-4-0 record in his first full season with club … Winning record in ’75 was Oilers first winning season in eight years and just second in 13 seasons …. Named NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year by Newspaper Enterprise Association, 1975 … Culp led defense that helped Oilers earn back-to-back appearances in AFC championship game, 1978-79 … Named All-Pro, 1975 … All-Pro Second Team 1971, 1977, 1978, and 1979 …. First- or second-team All-AFC five times … Elected to six Pro Bowls … Born March 10, 1946 in Yuma, Arizona.
This is his last chance to gain election into the Canton, Ohio, museum. Really though, it's the first chance of election for the dominant defensive tackle who was a key part of the Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl IV-winning team.
“I’ve never gotten this far before,” Culp said in a phone interview. “I’ve heard my name mentioned before, but I’ve never been this close before.”
Culp, 66, is among four finalists with ties to the AFC West. The others are Kansas City guard Will Shields, Raiders receiver Tim Brown and defensive tackle Warren Sapp, who finished his career in Oakland but is known more for his time in Tampa Bay. Along with Culp, Sapp is considered to have the best chance of election.
Now that he is on the cusp of gaining entry to the Hall, Culp admits he’s excited.
“It has not captured my every thought, but ever since I became a finalist, I’ve been thinking a lot about it,” Culp said. “It would be an honor to be part of so many great men in the special club. I’m just pleased to be part of this process.”
Culp, who operates a car service in Austin, Texas, would join a long list of Chiefs in the Hall of Fame; that, he said, is part of the excitement for him. Culp is part of the Chiefs’ Hall of Fame and he regularly participates in functions related to that.
“I am a Kansas City Chiefs fan,” said Culp, who noted he is fired up about the hiring of Andy Reid as coach. ”The Chiefs were a big part of my life.”
And Culp -- who went on to play seven seasons in Houston and two in Detroit -- was a big part of the Chiefs. At 6-foot-1, 265 pounds, Culp, who won the NCAA heavyweight wrestling title while at Arizona State, was a unique player. In the Chiefs’ Super Bowl IV win against Minnesota, Hall of Fame coach Hank Stram put Culp over the center and it opened up plays for future Hall of Famers Buck Buchanan and Willie Lanier. Many people credit it for the beginning of the 3-4 defense.
Saturday, Culp might be rewarded for being part of NFL history.
Gregg Williams coached for 11 years with the franchise including a term as defensive coordinator from 1997-2000.
But the players who spoke to Wyatt said that Williams, now at the center of the NFL revelation that the Saints ran a bounty program while he was coordinator there, was not involved.
Current and former Oilers and Titans, including some who played for Williams, said the practice is common in NFL locker rooms. They said their coaches were aware of the incentive pools and didn’t discourage them, but they didn’t organize bonus programs or hand out money for deliberately injuring an opponent.
“That stuff has been going on since Buddy Ryan, and long before that,” said former Oilers linebacker Al Smith, who played for Ryan (Oilers defensive coordinator in 1993) and later for Williams. “Buddy used to put it simple: If you take the other team’s best player out, your chance of winning increases dramatically.
“Gregg felt the same way, but that’s the theme across the league. It was never ‘Go blow this guy’s knee out and you’ll get paid.’ It was just football. It was a defensive mentality thing.”
Wyatt talked to 12 players. Former Oilers/Titans safety Blaine Bishop strongly denied that Williams had any sort of program like the one the league found in New Orleans. (Disclosure: Bishop and I work for the same radio Nashville radio station.)
Former linebacker Keith Bulluck did a good job putting into perspective the whole idea of chasing a quarterback with a financial incentive to injure him.
“No coach that I ever played for ever asked me or any of my teammates to deliberately take someone out either on purpose or for any amount of money. It is football, and at the end of the day it is a strategic game, and as a defender I am trying to get to the ball as fast as possible with a bad attitude and hit the ball carrier as hard as I can within the structure of the game,” he said.
“But you don’t try and inflict injury on somebody. And as far as us going out there to take Peyton Manning out — it is hard enough to get to him, so to take him out in a way in which he wouldn’t be able to come back into the game would be pretty noticeable and pretty absurd. We had a hard enough time just hitting him.’’
It’s a fast game. Guys are paid big dollars to hit hard. What level of extra motivation would be added by pools that might award them a couple hundred or a couple thousand dollars for especially big hits?
I question the professionalism of a guy who needs that sort of boost to do his job well.
But maybe later I will be reaching out to the other seven members of the blog network to see if we want to set up something where we all toss in some bucks and the big entry of the week gets something a little extra.
Foremost among them are the contracts of outside linebacker Mario Williams and running back Arian Foster. Williams can become an unrestricted free agent and potentially command the richest contract for a defensive player in league history. Foster will be a restricted free agent who could be pursued by another club.
While general manager Rick Smith and coach Gary Kubiak worry about roster construction, and while many analysts like this one predict continued big things for the franchise, team president Jamey Rootes is looking at growing the team’s loyal following.
He’s already using a theme Kubiak is sure to hit with his players when they reassemble:
“You start back at zero. Nobody gives you anything. You’ve got to go out and earn it again.”
As with any team, a playoff breakthrough marked a significant increase in interest in the Texans.
But because theirs was the first time in the postseason, a lot of people were being exposed for the first time. Rootes wants to ensure the big moments of last season -- an AFC South clinching win in Cincinnati, a home playoff win against the Bengals, and a tough divisional-round loss in Baltimore -- are sticky.
“I thought it would be kind of a slow build, kind of a slow climb,” he said. “But from the time we got on the plane to go to Cincinnati to the time we came home as division champs, the world was completely different ...
“While we’ve had this great base of fans, that being recognized as a winner brought a whole new group of people into our family. Now it’s our job to hold them.”
Rootes cited three great indicators:
- TV ratings for the two playoff games in Houston shot up to a 36 from an average of 24. That’s an estimate of the percentage of the market watching. The playoff game in Baltimore had a 68 share in Houston, meaning 68 percent of the households with TVs on were watching at that given time.
- Texans gear was under Christmas trees all over Houston. The team sold more than $1 million worth of merchandise in just December, and Rootes said the Texans are up 200 percent, year over year.
- National attention was up, as Rootes noticed the Texans being featured in ESPN’s weekly “NFL Matchup” show.
Said defensive end Antonio Smith: “It’s way more intense. The fans have done, I don’t want to say a 180, but the city blew up. The difference is noticeable. I think it’s very important we hold onto those new people, that’s big for any organization, starting to secure a legacy…
“There are still people in their hearts who are Houston Oilers fans, they’re torn in between the Titans and us. We won a lot over. We have to continue to do so, and have the city 100 percent behind us.”
Rootes will latch on to that, campaigning to win over anybody and everybody who’s hasn’t connected or committed to wearing Texans colors.
“Now these new people are exposed to us, which is good,” Rootes said. “We weren’t on their radar before. I think it comes back to the fundamentals. The people that loved us, we were on their radar, they saw what we do: ‘These guys are working hard, they trying to build a champion, they create memorable experiences for us every time I’m involved with them.’
“We talk about 'create raving fans,' that’s our goal. Do whatever it takes to delight people, and that’s how you conduct yourself, and how you serve people and the experiences you provide. Do great things for Houston.”
It’s marketing spin language, for sure. But it’s an important time for the franchise to make it work, no matter how it’s framed or executed.
While the football side plans how to field the best team possible for an encore performance, the administrative side needs to do the same. To grow the team’s footprint, to ensure deep roots take hold, Rootes and his staff need to seize on the good feelings that linger and make people feel invested.
The Texans didn’t play a prime-time game last season, so as good as they were they had no national game until Cincinnati visited for the playoff opener.
Houston is sure to be a regular presence in prime time in 2012, when an expanded Thursday night package will expand the opportunity. Rootes said he campaigns with the league and with network executives for the publicity, the best advertising he can get.
“There is such energy in the stadium that the world doesn’t know about, it’s like a local phenomenon,” he said. “We want to expose it to the world, and national television is the way to do that.”
I suspect the Texans will go from invisible on the national slate to regularly featured. The hope is they can play even better than they did while going 10-6 in 2011.
And that as they do, an additional layer of people in southeastern Texas and beyond will be invested in it all.
Do you lean happy or sad, positive or negative?
The Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans have extreme moments on both sides of the ledger. So as we look to select only one as decisive, do we turn to the good or the bad?
The Luv Ya Blue Oilers were a wonder, and in 1978 and 1979 they may well have been the second-best team in the NFL. Unfortunately for them, they resided in the same division as the best team, the Pittsburgh Steelers. When they fell short of a third consecutive trip to the AFC Championship Game in 1980, owner Bud Adams regrettably fired coach Bum Phillips.
But if you’re looking for a tough turning point -- one that might now even outscore the other Houston option -- there's the famous playoff collapse in Buffalo in January 1993, when the Oilers blew a 35-3 lead. Rare is a significant collapse in an NFL game, or a playoff game in any sport, where the Bills’ comeback on the Oilers isn’t referenced.
Perhaps for Houston, even that was topped by the Oilers’ departure, but of course in Nashville that qualified as a happy occasion.
And while the appearance in Super Bowl XXXIV was the franchise’s football high point, it became possible thanks largely to the Music City Miracle, an improbable, last-second trick kickoff return that beat Buffalo in the 1999 playoffs.
You’re invited to do better than I’ve done here.
If you vote Other, give us your suggestion in the comments area below.
The Tennessee Titans new head coach actually went to three.
“There were three different groups I went to in 82, so unfortunately we had to do this three different times plus a pro day,” Munchak remembered. “It was a lot more difficult on the players. They’ve made it much easier it all being in one weekend, it’s much more efficient for everybody. Come out here in Indianapolis, spend a week here, get all the information you can get and everyone is on the same playing level. It’s changed dramatically in that regard for the better.”
But while Munchak got measured and worked out multiple times, he hardly faced the probing lines of questioning today’s prospects endure.
“I think it’s gotten a lot more intense,” he said. “…It’s a lot more in depth. I don’t remember us even having meetings. They were very minimal if you had one. That’s changed quite a bit. It’s such a big investment in a player you’re trying to find every way to not make a mistake.”
One bullet point of news from Munchak: He indicated the Titans won’t use their franchise or transition tag on anyone. The deadline for that is Thursday. Defensive end Jason Babin looked to have the best chance, but it would have cost roughly $13 million.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Chris Johnson's 91-yard touchdown run tied a franchise record.
I’m sure you all remember that Sid Blanks ran for a 91-yard score for the Houston Oilers on Dec. 13, 1964, in a 33-17 home win.
More records in sight? He’s got 179 yards on nine carries.
In his first season with the Titans, Crumpler brought the leadership the team was hoping for. He also willingly became more of a blocker than he ever was in Atlanta -- and that's what the Titans found they needed from him.
I discussed that, and his weight -- which was clearly up during OTAs - with him back in May.
An except from that blog entry:
As for the weight: Crumpler said if he was working as more of a pass catcher, he'd be 10 or 15 pounds lighter.
"But if I'm going to have to control that line of scrimmage, then I have to stay where I'm at," he said.
Which is where?
"You'll never get that out of me," he said.
Gigantic or not, Crumpler caught the ball well and moved OK. It's hard to imagine him ranking as a pass target very often ahead of Bo Scaife or rookie Jared Cook, sure to get some chances in the second half, once the season starts.
Two other thoughts:
On Trapasso's play: Jeff Fisher likes a nice special team fake and on a night when Craig Hentrich didn't dress, the coach clearly relished the opportunity to give an Ohio guy who played at Ohio State a big moment on a national TV stage.
Vince Young probably got undercut by a botched route on his first pass, a pick that wasn't a good throw no matter where his targets were supposed to be. He bounced back to throw a great ball on Paul Williams' touchdown catch. Nice concentration and footwork by Williams, who's overdue to show us something.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Kathy on Facebook feels funny seeing the Tennessee Titans preparing to wear old Houston Oilers uniforms Sunday night in the Hall of Fame Game and three more times during the regular season.
|ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky|
|The Titans will don Oilers jerseys at the Hall of Fame Game to celebrate the franchise's 50th anniversary.|
I tweeted early in practice that I found the light blue helmets "visually arresting." They'll be paired with blue jerseys and white pants for the game.
Responded Kathy: "The whole Oiler/Titan, Texas to Tennessee is just one huge bag of mixed feelings!"
A lot of people seem torn up over the concept, but the facts are the facts. The two franchises are one, and in a tribute to the 50th anniversary of the AFL, it's appropriate for the Titans to give a nod to their previous life as the Oilers.
Vince Young grew up in Houston rooting for the Oilers, and said he's excited about the chance to put on a uniform of the team that became the Tennessee Oilers in 1997, and became extinct two years later when the change-over to Titans became official.
"It doesn't make me feel uncomfortable, I'm pretty excited about it," Young said. "A lot of memories, a whole bunch of memories. It's the team's history. I'm looking forward to it. I've been talking to [fellow Houstonian and rookie cornerback Ryan] Mouton all day, I was like 'These guys don't know anything about this on their helmet right now.' So we've been having fun with it.
"Definitely they look sharp, I'm a big fan of it. It's a dream come true, growing up watching the Oilers, watching Chris Chandler, Warren Moon, Lamar Lathon ... I know a lot of the history of the Oilers. It's very cool to put the logo on."
Here's some further debate on teams carrying their history with them after they move.
Brad Meyers wrote on Facebook:
"Hey Paul, how do you think Raven's fans would like it if they wore "throwback" browns helmets, or the Chiefs fans if they had to wear Dallas Texan throwbacks? A lot of us without accents don't like it. I also don't like the fact that Warren Moon, George Blanda and Earl Campbell are on the Titan's ring of honor. Once the former city got a new team those type of ties should stick with the city. Not the franchise. All that said the helmets are sharp. Just not a big fan of the fact that we have to wear them."
I understand that thinking, and it's nice that the Browns' history stayed in Cleveland as part of their deal to relocate to Baltimore. But the fact is, an owner owns the team and the team comes with history.
|US Presswire/Icon SMI|
|After a Hall of Fame career as a player, Bruce Matthews is taking a shot at coaching.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
A three-coach-to-five-starters ratio is the sort of thing Bruce Matthews might have made fun of during his 19-year career as an offensive lineman with the Houston Oilers and Tennessee Titans.
But now that he's the third coach in just such a scenario, he's taken a softer stance and has a quip at the ready about it: "Until John Benton told me the Rams had four coaches for their two quarterbacks, or they did when Mike Martz was up there, I thought we were something special. But apparently that's not the case."
Alex Gibbs is technically the Texans' assistant head coach/offense, but he is the mastermind behind the line's run-blocking scheme. Benton is the offensive line coach and focuses a bit more on pass protection. Matthews is one of two entry-level coaches designated as an "offensive assistant."
There is little glamour in such a job. But during an illustrious career, Matthews never acted as if anything was below him. So it's not that surprising that the Hall of Famer, who turns 48 on Aug. 8, is just fine working at a photocopier, changing out the transparencies during an offensive line meeting or doing whatever is asked.
Still, glimpses of it can be striking.
"Me and Chester [Pitts] are back there, pointing," right tackle Eric Winston said. "'That's HoF over there, changing the transparencies.' I think that says nobody's above doing the little things."
|Bill Baptist/Houston Texans|
|Bruce Matthews says he's trying to soak in as much information as he can in his new role.|
"He's here to help us, he's not trying to come in and take everything over," left tackle Duane Brown said. "But he's always there for advice. You hear little stories about him and the guys he went against. He's played at different positions across the line. He knows what it takes to be successful and have a long career. Whenever he speaks up to say something, I'm all ears."
At a special-teams meeting during minicamp, Matthews sat quietly in the back of the room. When he raised a hand with something to add, coach Gary Kubiak said the entire room turned to get its eyes on the new coach.
"Some guys are huge talkers and you take bits and pieces," receiver David Anderson said. "Some guys just talk a little bit and you've got to really listen to what they say. And that's the way I think Bruce is."
When the president and CEO of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes kneels to pray in his office, he does so on a thick blue rectangular pad that's about 3 feet wide and 2 feet deep.
|AP Photo/Larry Salzman|
|Les Steckel, Steve McNair's coordinator from 1997-1999, nicknamed the quarterback "Silk."|
McNair had surgery that year because of a ruptured disc, missing five games but returning to lead the team on a run to the franchise's lone Super Bowl.
The former Houston/Tennessee and Baltimore quarterback was shot and killed on Saturday. Since the terrible news spread, old teammates, coaches and others who knew McNair have been reminiscing as they try to come to terms with his passing.
As an Oiler and Titan, McNair played for four coordinators: Jerry Rhome, Les Steckel, Mike Heimerdinger and Norm Chow. Heimerdinger has since returned to the post.
Monday, Rhome, Steckel and Chow took some time to talk about the hard-nosed signal caller who was widely respected for his humble personality as well as his strong arm, excellent mobility and ability to produce on Sundays even when injuries sidelined him for practices.
Rhome held the job for the team's final two seasons in Houston, 1995-1996. McNair, who was drafted third overall in '95, missed the bulk of training camp as a rookie while his contract was being ironed out and was way behind. But he showed a real commitment to football in the early months of 1996.
"He came in four days a week for about three, three-and-a-half hours to my office, February all the way to May," said Rhome, who got a "yes" from McNair anytime he asked him to visit with underprivileged kids. "I would teach him and I'd test him. Then we'd go out on the field and work. He was a very hard worker, made up a whole lot of ground and learned a lot that spring. ... That was the beginning of Steve McNair and pro ball."
Steckel called McNair "Silk," because when his sons once called their father's attention to McNair in an Alcorn State game on TV, Steckel's review after four or five plays was that the "kid is smooth as silk."
"I've never seen an athlete like that," Steckel said.
Just as he had private work with Rhome, McNair had a lot of one-on-one time with Steckel.
"Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights, he would be at our house, having dinner and we'd be talking football and looking at film," Steckel said of the spring of 1997. "We watched tape, and then we would set up drills behind these high hedges there in Houston, where nobody could see us work out or bother us, and we'd work out a couple hours, just he and I against the air, and eventually we'd bring in a receiver or two. Just to see his incredible athleticism take shape was pure joy as a coach. I mean, nothing is greater than working with great athletes getting better. And that's what happened with Steve."
Amid all the talk of McNair's toughness, Steckel might have a broader context in which to classify it: He spent 30 years in the Marine Corps and said he's been around "some very strong and tough, warrior kind of people."
"But I've never seen a body built like his where he just had the highest threshold of pain," Steckel said. "I was told he once did a root canal without medication, I still struggle with that one, but somebody swore to that."
Steckel said the only player he'd been connected with who qualified in McNair's class as a physically tough football player was O.J. Simpson.
While Rhome and Steckel had McNair on his way up, Chow had him as a veteran quarterback who was beaten up and was trying to lead a team depleted by a salary-cap purge in 2005.
"I quite admired the guy," Chow said. "Here I'm some guy from college coming in for his first pro job, and he tried to do what we asked him to do. He was set in some of his ways which was fine; he'd been in the league a long time. ... Despite my inexperience, he was very willing to kind of share and to respect what we were talking about. He never gave you an ounce of trouble or disrespect or anything like that."
|Joe Robbins/Getty Images|
|Former Titans coordinator Norm Chow remembers Steve McNair's "tremendous heart."|
"A lot of guys when they feel pressure want to get out of there," Chow said. "I still use one play of Steve on a training tape, where he went over one and up one, dodged a guy, stepped up and rifled a corner route to I think it was Brandon Jones. It was a perfect example of what a quarterback should be like. I show young quarterbacks: 'That right there is just like you would draw it up in a book.'"
Steckel and Chow both talked of McNair's manner, the soft and sincere personality that won so many people over.
"He was always gracious," said Steckel, whose son Luke wore No. 9 as a high school player because of McNair and whose daughter, Leslie, babysat McNair's kids. "I think about how he was so humble and so gracious. ... He was so coachable and so obedient. It was a lot of fun to work with him and to see him grow as a professional quarterback."
"He was really a respectful, kind, gentle guy," said Chow, who once complimented a golf shirt McNair wore and then saw the quarterback bring him a boxful a few weeks later. "He had a tremendous heart and played awfully hard. ... [He was] very candid, very open, very respectful and you could tell that people responded to him."
It's been 10 years since Steckel called plays for McNair. The old coach's prized blue praying pad surfaced as McNair worked his way back from back surgery in 1999.
"He would just kneel down on this big thick pad -- he couldn't sit; his back was still recouping," Steckel said. "I kept that pad; he gave it to me, and I said I could put it to good use. ..."
"I think of Steve every day when I pull it out."
Hopefully some of you caught Cris Carter's appearance during ESPN's weekend coverage of Steve McNair's death. Carter made a nuanced point about McNair's role in the progress of black quarterbacks, one I think bears repeating in this forum.
|Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images|
|The Houston Oilers selected Steve McNair No. 3 overall in 1995.|
Certainly, the NFL had witnessed successful black quarterbacks long before Houston drafted McNair in 1995. Hall of Famer Warren Moon, for one, left the Canadian Football League in 1984 and actually preceded McNair in Houston. Randall Cunningham spent parts of 10 seasons as Philadelphia's quarterback, and there are a number of other examples. (Tampa Bay drafted Doug Williams No. 17 overall in 1978, but the Buccaneers' refusal to pay him a competitive salary eventually prompted him to leave for the USFL.)
But, Carter said, McNair was the best early example of a black quarterback whose small(er)-college passing success was accepted at face value by an NFL team. Although McNair was also a productive scrambler at Division I-AA Alcorn State, the then-Oilers believed he could develop into an NFL-caliber passer and staked the No. 3 overall pick in the draft on it. (Remember, he was known as "Air McNair" in college.)
McNair played on some run-oriented teams in Houston, Tennessee and Baltimore and thus never threw for more than 3,387 yards in a season. But despite his mobility, McNair was always known as a passing quarterback who could run. And when his failing body began limiting his mobility after the age of 30, McNair extended his career by developing into one of the league's best clutch passers.
McNair's success paved the way for players like Daunte Culpepper, who put up stellar passing numbers at then-I-AA Central Florida in the late 1990s. Like McNair, Culpepper was a big and physical specimen who nonetheless was a passer before anything else. (Culpepper, in fact, set a single-season NCAA record by completing 73.6 percent of his passes in 1998.)
Despite Central Florida's second-tier status at the time, Minnesota jumped on Culpepper with the No. 11 overall pick of the 1999 draft. There was a time, Carter said, when NFL teams were hesitant to invest a high draft pick in a player of Culpepper's background. McNair made that hesitation a non-issue. Viewed through the eyes of Carter, McNair peeled away another layer of quarterback bias: That a black quarterback's college passing success was the result of skill that translated to the NFL rather than simple athleticism.