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Steve McNair Remembered for Toughness, 'Unquestioned Heart'

Jul 4, 2009 – 9:00 PM
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Tom Herrera

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Ask anyone who played with or coached Steve McNair, and you'll always hear him described as an incredibly hard worker, a tough-as-nails quarterback and a devoted teammate. In the wake of a terrible tragedy where McNair was found shot to death, those who knew McNair are left saddened and in shock. Just take a look at some of the reactions to the 36-year-old's death.

"He was one of the finest players to play for our organization and one of the most beloved players by our fans. He played with unquestioned heart and leadership and led us to places that we had never reached, including our only Super Bowl," Titans owner Bud Adams said in a statement.

Wide receiver Derrick Mason, who played with McNair for both Tennessee and Baltimore, was especially close to him both on and off the field. Here's what Mason had to say, via ESPN:
"He was a fun teammate. Hard worker. A guy that tried to get the most out of everybody on the team. Rarely do you get an opportunity to play with an individual that had so much passion for the game, and would sacrifice everything he had to make sure his team went out there and won a game. He was one of those rare individuals, and for me it was an honor to play with him basically all my career up until this point ...

I saw countless times, going into the training room on Monday and seeing him on the table and seeing ice everywhere and trainers working on him, just to try to get him back for next Sunday. And he would be that way for Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, sometimes even Thursday. And then on Friday he'd do a little [in practice], but still be able to go out there Sunday and play as if he wasn't hurt. It amazed me to see somebody, especially at that position, to be so tough and to play through all that he went through, with the injuries."
Cornerback Samari Rolle, who also played extensively with McNair, was taken aback by the news:
"To lose such a good friend and a good man so soon doesn't make sense," Rolle said. "If you were going to draw a football player, the physical part, the mental part, everything about being a professional, he is your guy. I can't even wrap my arms around it. It is a sad, sad day. The world lost a great man today."
Jim Fassel, the former Ravens offensive coordinator, told The Washington Post that "there was nobody who didn't like Steve McNair." Fassel continued:
"You talk about toughness, this guy is at top of the list. He played with pain, could take a hit and never ran from a hit ... You admired him because he always tried to do what you wanted him to do. He wasn't a complainer and was always the first to take responsibility, even when things weren't necessarily his fault."
Even those who didn't get the chance to play with McNair -- like Redskins QB Jason Campbell -- were gracious for the opportunity to be a star in this league, an opportunity that was paved in large part because of black quarterbacks like McNair.
"The whole black quarterback thing, it's like a fraternity. Guys who played before you pass the torch down to younger guys. You always keep in contact with those guys who came before you. You try to keep in contact with them and learn as much as possible from them. Losing a guy like that our of fraternity ... it hurts because of how much you looked up to him. He's definitely one of the guys I looked up to. A lot of other guys looked up to him too. It's just a real hard day."
Courage. Leadership. Commitment. These are the qualities that ring true in every memory about McNair. But there is another role McNair played that shouldn't be forgotten: Mentor. When he retired last year, Vince Young and Troy Smith were two quarterbacks that expressed how deep their connection was.

"I love him as a father figure, and I cherish the relationship that we have," Young told reporters after McNair's retirement. "He taught me so much - not about the game, but about life, and I owe him a great deal."

Smith was even more glowing in his praise, saying "You're talking about one of the top five quarterbacks ever to play the position. I don't care what anybody says. You talk about the toughness he had. You talk to anyone that played with him. They'll tell you."

And they most certainly have.

Regardless of how this case evolves over the coming weeks, no one can take away the kind of football player and teammate McNair embodied. The character he instilled in young QBs like Campbell, Young and Smith lives on.

Remembering Steve McNair

    Three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Steve McNair is remembered for being an incredibly hard worker, a dedicated teammate and a true NFL leader. Click through the gallery to recap McNair's memorable 13-year career.

    Ronen Zilberman, AP

    McNair signed a seven-year contract with the Houston Oilers after being selected third overall in the 1995 NFL Draft. As a prolific quarterback at Alcorn State, he shattered Division I-AA records, won the Walter Payton Award, and finished third in Heisman Trophy voting behind Rashaan Salaam and Ki-Jana Carter.

    Mark Phillips, AFP / Getty Images

    During his early NFL career, McNair remained a backup to Chris Chandler until starting a game in December 1996 against the Jaguars. In his first season as the Oilers' starter in 1997, he led the team to an 8-8 record, and his 2,665 passing yards were the most for the Oilers since Warren Moon in 1993. He also collected 674 yards on the ground, the third-highest total for a quarterback in NFL history.

    Pat Sullivan, AP

    McNair developed a special bond with his teammates as the franchise progressed and the team's name was changed to the Tennessee Titans. With emerging stars such as wide receiver Derrick Mason, pictured, McNair led the Titans to victory in seven of their last nine games during the 1999 season. Tennessee finished with a 13–3 record and second place in the AFC Central.

    Elsa, Getty Images

    McNair and the Titans battled throughout the 1999 playoffs, including a shocking wild-card win over Buffalo on a play dubbed the "Music City Miracle." His most notable drive came in Super Bowl XXXIV, when he carried the Titans 87 yards in the final minute and 48 seconds, only to come up just shy when Kevin Dyson was tackled at the 1-yard-line. The Titans lost 23-16 in a heartbreaker.

    Morry Gash, AP

    Despite missing two games with an injured calf and ankle during the 2003 season, McNair finished with the best numbers of his career -- including 24 touchdown passes and a quarterback rating of 100.4. McNair and Peyton Manning were named co-NFL MVPs following the season. "I'm sharing it with Peyton Manning, I'm sharing it with a great guy," said McNair.

    John Russell, AP

    Titans head coach Jeff Fisher, left, told The Tennessean that he'll always remember McNair as one of his favorite players. "It is an extremely emotional moment and I don't have the words to explain how I am feeling." Fisher, who was on his way back from the inaugural NFL-USO Tour in the Persian Gulf, was especially close to McNair during their decade of working together.

    Mark Humphrey, AP

    McNair, referred to as a "warrior" by former teammate Al Del Greco, fought through numerous aches and pains during his career. He missed eight games in 2004 with a bruised sternum, but rebounded for a successful closing season with the Titans in 2005.

    Mark Humphrey, AP

    In June 2006, McNair's long stay with the Titans ended with a trade to Baltimore, where he played the final two seasons of his career. He led the Ravens to a 13-3 record and an AFC South championship in 2006 before faltering in 2007 due to back and shoulder injuries.

    Mark Humphrey, AP

    With both the Titans and Ravens, the respected veteran paved the way for young black quarterbacks such as Vince Young, right, and Troy Smith. "He taught me so much - not about the game, but about life, and I owe him a great deal," said Young.

    Andy Lyons, Getty Images

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