One year ago, early on the morning of July 4, 2009, Sahel Kazemi, a 20-year-old restaurant employee, shot Steve McNair and then herself in an apartment on a downtown Nashville hill overlooking the Tennessee Titans football stadium.
On that day I wrote about the shock the city of Nashville felt and eulogized McNair:
"If ever there was a better connection between a city and a player, I haven't seen it. McNair and Nashville were a perfect pair, the lovers who never could quite get it right, the Super Bowl-losing quarterback with a golden arm who was born on Valentine's Day, and the city that turns its failures into ballads heard round the world."
One year after McNair's death, not much has changed in the NFL. Quarterbacks are still out late at night with unsavory female companionship -- see Ben Roethlisberger. Even Titans quarterbacks, Vince Young and Chris Simms, continue to run afoul of the law, and the city of Nashville remains stunned by what happened to McNair. In fact, now that it's been a year, McNair's absence is, in some ways, even more glaring than it was in the days immediately after his death.
Yet, as the city of Nashville reaches the one-year anniversary of the death, there is no public remembrance of McNair, an athlete who was beloved unlike any other in city history. That's why the question has to be asked, would it be appropriate for the city and the Titans to construct a statue of McNair outside LP Field?
Of course, the idea is complicated by the manner in which McNair died, murdered by a woman with whom he was having an extramarital affair. Had the 36-year-old McNair died in a car accident, for instance, or in any manner that did not involve a criminal investigation, it's likely that a statue would have already been commissioned.
That's because McNair's performance on the field, while not quite Hall of Fame worthy, certainly justifies a statue when you consider his MVP status, his Super Bowl appearance, and, most importantly, the way his grace and humility came to define pro athletics in a city that had never had pro athletes before.
Just over a decade since the team's arrival, interest in the Tennessee Titans dominates the city of Nashville like few pro sports franchises dominate their cities in the country. Nashville is Titans crazy and no one can dispute that Steve McNair is the most famous athlete in the city of Nashville's history.
Even as a bona fide star, McNair didn't play football as if it were effortless or like everyone else moved slower around him. He didn't skitter out of bounds or gallop down the field without anyone near him. The prima-donna quarterback style never found him. Nope, he played quarterback like it was hard work. And with time, Tennesseans came to love this about him.
His ability to escape disaster on play after play and turn a loss into a small gain worked for Nashville. We didn't need Hollywood flash or glitz and glamor -- we needed a guy who was comfortable picking himself up from the ground, someone who didn't look down on us from up high. A man who would have fit in the city no matter what he did for a living.
McNair was that person.
But McNair's death remains a tender issue, an unhealed wound. Witness the response of the man who owns the apartment where McNair was murdered when I asked to speak to the tenants who have been living there since September.
"That is very private and not available for anyone," Charlie Cardwell snapped.
Young, who called McNair "Pops," will be spending the anniversary of his idol's death in Mount Olive, Mississippi.
"I'm going to go out there and spend the weekend with Mama Mac [McNair's mother] in Mississippi," Young (pictured below right with Ray Lewis at McNair's memorial) said. "It's the one-year anniversary of Steve not being here. It's going to be a sad moment, but we're going to eat some barbecue and celebrate the life of Steve McNair, the things he put in my life and his family's life."
Many Titans fans will also be celebrating the life of Young's predecessor. But not in any one place. So the question remains, should there be a statue to Steve McNair outside LP Field? Especially given that statues of players or coaches are not uncommon in college football. Even Tim Tebow, now 22 years old, will have one at Florida soon. And statues are common outside stadiums in the NFL.
From Vince Lombardi in Green Bay to Pat Tillman in Arizona. Thurman Thomas in Buffalo to Sam Mills in Carolina, Dan Rooney in Pittsburgh to Dan Marino in Miami, many NFL teams have chosen to honor significant members of their franchise's history with statues.
Sam Mills offers, perhaps, the best analogy to McNair, a player who arrived at the same time that the franchise did in the city and placed his own imprint on the Panthers through sheer dint of hard work. Mills started every game the first three seasons for the Panthers and later coached until 2005 when he died of cancer. While his career accomplishments pale next to McNair's, Mills also became a symbol of the NFL in a city that had never had a team before.
Of course, some statues exist in opposition to McNair's.
And the statue that stands in greatest opposition to McNair's is Pat Tillman's in Arizona. Tillman's statue is the only one in the NFL that exists solely because of the way he died. If Tillman plays the rest of his NFL career, is a solid but unspectacular safety for the Arizona Cardinals, and then goes on to die in 2067, does he receive a statue outside the stadium? Of course not. Tillman is being honored, appropriately so, at a football stadium for a decision he made that had nothing to do with football.
For his selfless volunteering for the armed forces in the wake of September 11, when he could have continued to play football with a rich contract.
What about the flip side to Tillman, a man, like McNair, who dies ingloriously in pursuit of his own self-interests at the expense of others?
In this instance, does how Steve McNair died off the field discredit how he played on the field to such an extent that a statue is no longer deserved?
It's a difficult and intriguing issue, one without any easy answers.
Especially since many sports philanderers have statues outside stadiums.
Just one example, Michael Jordan is perpetually soaring outside the United Center in Chicago. His wife divorced him for, among other things, lots of infidelity.
But Jordan wasn't murdered by one of his mistresses.
What if he, like Steve McNair, had been?
Would that change our evaluation of Jordan's on-court dominance?
And if our opinion of athletes changes based on how they died, are we allowing a murderer, Sahel Kazemi, too much power to define McNair's legacy?
The answer to that question defies categorization. Almost like Steve McNair's on-field play at quarterback. The warbling giant, the fast man who couldn't avoid any hits, "the toughest man," as my radio show co-host Blaine Bishop says, "I ever knew."
After much thought, here's one vote on the one-year anniversary of his death for a Steve McNair statue.