NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Steve McNair had made a name for himself even before Super Bowl XXXIV.
Yet after his performance in the spotlight, it's safe to say many viewed the late Titans quarterback a little differently.
"That game was the taking off point for a lot of people to see what Mac was all about. That's where he really started establishing his legacy," said Titans receiver Kevin Dyson, who was tackled at the one-yard line on the final play of the team's 23-16 loss to the Rams.
"I made mention of that at the podium right after the game. Mac was always underrated, and that game provided an opportunity for the entire world to see what everyone in Nashville already knew."
An NFL columnist recently detailed the top 50 moments in Super Bowl history, and McNair's "Great Escape" in the final seconds of the team's desperate comeback effort made No.32 on the list. It was part of a memorable day for McNair, and the Titans.
McNair's escape will forever be etched in the minds of longtime Titans fans. It happened on a third-and-5 from the Rams' 27-yard line with just 22 seconds left in the game. On the play, McNair went on a wild scramble and somehow managed to escape the grasp of two Rams defensive linemen, including defensive lineman Kevin Carter, to keep the play alive. McNair then fired a first-down pass to Dyson to put the Titans in a position to even the score.
"That 2-minute drive when he kind of shrugged off two defensive linemen, and that will to win he showed,'' tight end Frank Wycheck said of McNair. "That kind of summed Steve up in a nutshell. That's kind of a lasting memory that none of us will ever forget."
The Titans covered 80 yards in 1:48 on their final possession of that Super Bowl, with McNair leading the way. He made one big throw after another down the stretch on a day when he completed 22-of-36 passes for 214 yards.
"When you talk about the toughness mantra that goes with Steve's game, it started with that game,'' tackle Brad Hopkins said. "That was the thing that started the Steve McNair sensation."
McNair, billed as the next big thing coming out of Alcorn State in 1995, waited his turn before he made his mark on the NFL. He was a back-up his first two NFL seasons, and he was oftentimes overshadowed when he got his chance as a starter while playing in a run-first offense.
Things eventually changed. McNair followed up the Super Bowl season with a strong year in 2000, when he guided the Titans to a 13-3 record. Then, his career really took off. McNair threw for over 3,000 yards three straight seasons from 2001-2003, and split MVP honors with quarterback Peyton Manning during the '03 season, when he threw for 3,215 yards and 24 touchdowns.
McNair ended up playing 13 NFL seasons. He finished his career with the Ravens after 11 seasons in Tennessee.
Former Titans running back Eddie George said he'll never forget McNair's performance in Super Bowl XXXIV.
"I think people had a chance to see his grit, and his leadership, and his willingness to win, and how he was willing to sacrifice his body at all cost,'' George said. "That game, the world could see it. That one play, when he broke free from two tackles and threw a strike to Dyson, that day, people saw he was a winner."
George said he'll also never forget their bus ride leaving the Georgia Dome, when they ended up across the aisle from one another on a quiet bus together after the game. McNair passed away in 2009 at the age of 36.
"We kind of looked at one another and I remember Mac saying, "Damn, 27, that was a hell of a ride, man,'' George recalled. "I said "You know what? We gave it all we had. But I said next year, we're going to make it back, man.
"That was our plan. We never had a chance to make it back, and that's unfortunate. We came close, but we just couldn't get back. But it was a hell of a ride. And we had a lot of fun. We made a lot of great memories, that's for sure."