McNair Epitome of Toughness During his NFL Career




NASHVILLE, Tenn. --** Mention the name Steve McNair to an NFL player and the words that typically follow are tough, indestructible, warrior and friendly.

Even as police confirmed the circumstances of his death -- a married man shot four times by a girlfriend 16 years his junior, who then killed herself -- fans and ex-teammates were trying to focus on the person McNair was between the sidelines and in the locker room.

"He could've played back in the old days with no helmets," former Titans safety Blaine Bishop said.

That sounds about right.

McNair earned plenty of accolades in the NFL, sharing the league's MVP in 2003 with Peyton Manning, finishing third in MVP voting in 2002 and being named to the Pro Bowl four times in his 13-year career. But it was his toughness that kept coming up Wednesday as fans flocked to LP Field to say goodbye to McNair on the field where he provided so many memories. A memorial service will be held Thursday night followed by the funeral Saturday in Mississippi.

Carl Shankle of Nashville stopped at the stadium during his lunch break to watch videos of McNair's career, which were flashed on the scoreboard. Shankle marveled at McNair's coolness under pressure.

"Watch the highlights. Somebody who can stay in the backfield and one way or another get away from the people rushing," he said. "It's amazing, and (he) put up a decent pass. Some guys can get away, but when they throw the ball, it's off into nowhere."

It was McNair who turned Music City into an NFL town after the Titans moved here from Houston, where they were the Oilers. McNair took the team to its lone Super Bowl in 2000, a thrilling game featuring a final drive that came up just a yard short of forcing the game's first overtime.

The Mississippi native was country tough, and that meant learning how to ignore pain. McNair played through injuries so numerous a local newspaper once ran a chart breaking down when and what he had endured.

There was the injury to his sternum that later required surgery because a rib kept slipping against his breast bone, bone spurs in his ankle that had him limping, a shoulder surgery that became infected and needed weeks of intravenous antibiotics, bruised ribs, a strained calf.

McNair knew that he had to sacrifice his body to pick up yards, and he was always ready to do it.

"It made all of us have sighs of relief when he actually would put the uniform on and get himself ready to play regardless of how hurt he was," said Brad Hopkins, McNair's left tackle from the quarterback's rookie year in 1995 through 2005. "It always made you feel better. It made me feel better."

The quarterback crashed into an equipment trunk on the sideline in Dallas.

He came off the bench in Pittsburgh a week after first hurting his chest, then drove the Titans down the field for the winning touchdown. He did it to the Steelers again in a playoff game, going back in after ripping a piece of skin off a thumb and leading Tennessee to tie the game and force overtime. Then he drove the Titans down the field to set up the winning field goal.

Titans coach Jeff Fisher's favorite memory involves seeing McNair use a walker in a hospital to receive an epidural injection that would allow him to practice late in 2005, a season in which Tennessee went 4-12.

"Those types of stories are those that you have never heard of. You witnessed the moments on the field and the comebacks and all those kind of things, but it was those things that made him special," Fisher said.

McNair was no diva. He liked to kill time watching "The Price is Right" and "Walker, Texas Ranger." He loved to pull sly jokes on his teammates and once told one of his backups that playing quarterback was mental, not physical -- which was why he stayed out of the weight room.

He also was among the first to welcome free agent long snapper Ken Amato to the team in 2003.

"He made everybody feel welcome. It didn't matter who you were. If you were a first-round draft pick or a free agent, that was his personality," Amato said. "He made everybody feel welcome, a part of the team. It was almost like you were a part of his family."

What McNair did on the field wasn't captured by the league's passer rating because so much of it involved his legs: a 71-yard run against Tampa Bay in 1998; his 51-yard scramble in the 2000 AFC championship game with Jaguars grabbing at him; pulling away from Kevin Carter in that 2000 Super Bowl to keep the last drive alive.

He joined Steve Young and Fran Tarkenton -- both Hall of Famers -- as the only quarterbacks to throw for 30,000 yards and run for 3,500 more. Between 1999 and 2003, no NFL team won more games than the Titans with McNair and only St. Louis matched their total.

Fisher said he thinks anyone with the NFL knows understands what McNair accomplished on the field.

"It was just an incredible career," his coach said.

AP Sports Writer Teresa Walker covered McNair when he was with the Tennessee Titans from 1997-2005.

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