SPORTS: Remembering "Air" McNair

Written by Jake Welch on . Posted in Sports

The day was January 30, 2000, and Super Bowl XXXIV was the occasion. I remember watching as Steve McNair and the Tennessee Titans marched down the field and came within six yards of victory.

I was breathless along with the rest of the country as Kevin Dyson stretched out his arm only to come one yard short of a touchdown that would have tied the game. One yard from Super Bowl glory.  While the events of that day may be considered tragic, they are nothing in comparison to what transpired last Saturday.

McNair (who was married and had four sons) and his 20-year-old girlfriend, Sahel Kazemi, were found dead in a condo in downtown Nashville, Tenn. He was shot four times, including once in each temple. Detectives have determined that McNair’s death was a homicide but have not made any announcement about Kazemi.

While many questions remain concerning his death, there is only one thing I can say for a fact: Steve McNair was one heck of a football player.

Whenever an opposing defense found themselves playing against McNair, they knew they were in for a dogfight. It became customary for him to drop back in the pocket, avoid three tackles and then throw a strike for a first down.

He was also known for his intestinal fortitude or, in the sports vernacular, guts. The man played through more concussions, breaks and strains than you can count on your hands and feet. Had he stayed healthy throughout his career, there is no doubt he would still be playing today, putting up Hall of Fame-type numbers.

If anything he, along with Warren Moon, set the mold for the rising generation of black quarterbacks. He was the first to come into the game as a mobile quarterback that was also accurate in the passing game. Too often you get guys that can scramble (Michael Vick, Travias Jackson, Aaron Brooks) but never really complete passes on a consistent basis. McNair was a perfect blend of mobility and decent accuracy, making the right decision about when to throw or when to tuck and run. While many might never see him as one of the best in either of these categories, he excelled in both and became only one of three quarterbacks to throw for over 30,000 yards and rush for 3,500.

While I do recognize that McNair was a great player on the gridiron, recent events surrounding his demise have left many questions about his character off the field. Regardless of what professional athletes accomplish in their respective sports, they will always be subject to the same weaknesses and downfalls as the rest of us.

So as we look back on the life of Steve McNair the quarterback, we can undoubtedly respect his abilities, accomplishments and groundbreaking career. As far as Steve McNair the person, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Jake Welch is a sports writer for Rhombus. He also contributes to the magazine’s weekly Munchmobile feature, which will appear later this week.

SPORTS: The People v. Major League Baseball

Written by Jake Welch on . Posted in Sports

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I stand before you this day with much grief in my heart. The mere fact that I have to defend the relevance of baseball in this day and age brings me to tears. I grew up reverencing the sport the way middle school girls worship the Jonas Brothers. Now, baseball is a hiss in a byword.  How could a game that was once called America’s National Pastime be labeled as a second-rate sport?  Why do I believe baseball is still great? Let us explore.

Argument #1: It’s pure (kind of) — What? Steroids? I don’t know what you’re talking about. As far as I am concerned Mark McGuire got big on whey protein and Barry Bonds’ head doubled in mass because of some new face muscle exercise he learned on P90X. Even if those beloved long-ballers did shoot the juice, those days are over. Small ball, the art of bunting, stealing and sacrificing, is making a strong comeback, unless you play at the new Yankee Stadium where even Ichiro Suzuki can hit 40+ home runs. That aside, baseball is still considered an art form. Turning a double play, painting the outside corner of the strike zone and laying down a squeeze bunt are things of beauty.

Argument #2: It’s a team sport — Most people think that baseball is composed of one-on-one battles between a pitcher and hitter while the players in the field pick daises. I hold firm that baseball is in fact a team sport because of one thing and one thing only: bench-clearing brawls. It’s a thing of beauty to see two teams completely clear their benches and start an all out war in defense of one player. Sometimes even the the coaches get involved. (See Don Zimmer v.  Pedro Martinez.) This never happens in basketball, because a) drunken fans will get involved and Ron Artest will go ape on someone, or b) everyone sits back in their chairs because, if they even set foot on the floor during a fight, they get suspended and fined. Only on the baseball field is there this kind of camaraderie.

Argument #3: It’s Multicultural — This is the only professional sport in the United States that has succeeded in consistently drawing players from a wide variety of nations. The MLS is not professional, but good thinking. The NFL will once in a blue moon get a player from Canada, but that’s about as international as it gets. The NBA might have a legit case here but, regardless of how successful some of the international players become, they will always be hated. Case in point: Manu Ginobili. (See also Hedo Turkoglu, Tony Parker, Pau Gasol and soon-to-be loathed Ricky Rubio.) Baseball on the other hand has successfully integrated likable players such as Hideo Nomo of Japan (if you were a kid playing baseball in his prime, you know you tried his whirlwind pitching windup) and Jose Contreras of Cuba (that’s right, the power of baseball can even soften Fidel’s heart).

Argument#4: Beer Bellies = A-OK — The American people can relate to baseball players because some players resemble the man in IHOP that, no matter what, makes you feel skinny. Just look at Yankees pitcher C.C. Sabathia. Tipping the scales at around 300 lbs didn’t stop him from getting one of fattest deals in game. I can only imagine that does wonders for the game in the minor league levels. While there are many fine physical specimens in the game of baseball, it is a known fact that being in shape is not a necessity to play the game. Anyone (and yes, that means you, Dmitri Young) can play baseball.

After hearing my sound arguments, there should be no denying the greatness of baseball in American culture. Sure, it might not keep pace with our instant twitterfication society, but baseball can and will endure the test of time. I rest my case.

Jake Welch is a sports writer for Rhombus. He is one of 12 people on the planet who actually care about Major League Baseball.