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.