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Thousands Expected at McNair Funeral in Mississippi

MOUNT OLIVE, Miss. -- A capacity crowd of 8,000 was expected Saturday at the funeral for former NFL quarterback Steve McNair on the University of Southern Mississippi campus.

The funeral for McNair, who was shot and killed by a girlfriend who then killed herself, comes a day after hundreds lined up in his hometown of Mount Olive in southern Mississippi to pay their respects.

People drove from nearby states and joined the locals parking cars and trucks on the side of the four-lane divided highway that runs beside Reeves Funeral Home. Some left cars across the highway, dodging traffic to join the line of people waiting to pay their last respects.

Frankie Delancy of nearby Harrisville worked with McNair's mother, Lucille. Delancy wasn't surprised to see the long line twisting through the funeral home parking lot, onto the paved road and out onto the shoulder of the highway.

"He was a great person. You can see the turnout here for him. If you can't tell by looking at this, I don't know," she said.

Tommy Milton played with McNair at Alcorn State and said the turnout tells the story of the man McNair was.

"He could break all barriers -- black and white. He was one of us," Milton said.

The visitation in McNair's hometown followed two days of mourning in Nashville where thousands remembered the 2003 co-MVP of the NFL who led the Tennessee Titans to the 2000 Super Bowl.

It was a far different turnout from the modest funeral for Sahel Kazemi, the 20-year-old girlfriend who shot the married McNair to death in his sleep on the Fourth of July and then shot herself in the head. Her brief funeral in Florida was closed to outsiders.

Mount Olive has 1,000 residents and McNair's death left them stunned and distraught. The town sign had a banner hanging underneath saying McNair would not be forgotten.

Glenda Felder, 54, followed McNair's career since he was drafted by the then-Houston Oilers in 1995. She has his rookie card and went to Nashville and Baltimore to watch him play for the Titans and later the Ravens. She drove more than six hours from Baytown, Texas, to pay her respects and also planned to attend the funeral.

"He was a great man despite the end. He was a great man. I can't judge him, can't judge anyone. We all make mistakes," she said.

Others at the funeral home included McNair's agent, Bus Cook, and Atlanta Falcons running back Jerious Norwood.

Mourners shared their memories of McNair's athletic accomplishments.

Mount Olive, like a lot of the small towns in the Deep South, is football crazy. Replays of college football games were on the TV on a summer afternoon in the local pharmacy.

"Athletics, it makes the town go in a sense, and when somebody like this makes it big, everybody around here is proud of him," said Norman Johnston, an assistant football coach at Mount Olive High School, where McNair played sports. "So when a person like him dies, it affects everybody. Rich, poor, black, white, it really has an effect on people because it doesn't happen every day that somebody makes it big."

McNair tied the state record for interceptions and dominated conversations until his retirement after the 2007 season.

Even Mount Olive residents who never met McNair felt they knew him. That is why the McNair family provided buses for those who wanted to go to the funeral about 35 miles south of Mount Olive.

"As a whole, the town is distraught," resident Mary Barnes said. "You can just feel the silence and the mourning in the town. There's just such a silence here now."

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