NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Mechelle McNair remembers the good times.
Nearly seven years after her husband's tragic death, the widow of former Titans quarterback Steve McNair talks about the memories with a smile on her face. She's proud of everything he accomplished, and discusses him regularly with the couple's growing boys because his spirit continues to live through them today.
TitansOnline.com reflects on special moments with Steve McNair and his family with the Titans. (Donn Jones Photography.com)
"There is literally not a day that goes by that we don't talk about their dad,'' Mechelle McNair said in an interview with Titans Online. "The boys do things that remind me of Steve all the time. I'm always like, 'Oh my gosh, your dad used to do that.' And then they'll ask me what he did and I'll tell them another story about him."
On Saturday night, roughly two weeks before the seventh anniversary of his death, Steve McNair will be inducted posthumously into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame.
McNair's son Tyler, now 17, will accept the award on his father's behalf at the event. Trent, who's 12, will also be there, along with Mechelle, who began dating McNair when he was a star quarterback at Alcorn State, where he electrified crowds while earning the nickname "Air McNair." McNair went on to become a star in the National Football League. In Nashville, he gained popularity because of his determination, and grit.
McNair played from 1995-2005 with the Oilers/Titans before playing his final two NFL seasons with the Baltimore Ravens. McNair threw for 31,304 passing yards and 174 touchdowns in his career while also running for 3,590 yards and 37 touchdowns. He guided the Titans to the organization's only Super Bowl appearance, at the end of the 1999 season. McNair retired in April 2008.
"It was emotional (when Steve died), but it was never hard for me to talk about him because of the person that he was,'' Mechelle McNair said. "Steve's death was indeed tragic, but I look at the dad and husband that he was, the player people respected and admired so much, the generous man that he was. I look at all of these things and tell my kids about all of the good things that he did. I am always talking about him, just like he is still here."
Mechelle McNair said she's thankful for the way the city of Nashville treated her husband, and her family following his death. She said she never considered leaving Nashville.
"Even today, I still meet people who express their condolences or tell me that Steve was always their favorite player,'' she said. "He was so dedicated to the game, and when he was on the field he gave it his all. But that's what he was all about. He wanted to give it his all for himself, his teammates, the fans, and the community.
"It is bittersweet (for him to be inducted), because I would love for Steve to be here to accept this award himself. Steve worked hard, and I sometimes felt that he didn't get the recognition he deserved. But for him to get into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and now this, I feel like he would be really happy about it. I am very proud."
Mechelle McNair said her mission as a single mom is to raise the boys with Steve's influence in mind.
She said she's buoyed by stories others tell her about her husband. While discussing his playing career, she offered up several memories of her own about the way he played through injuries, and pain. And his love for the game.
She can laugh about the anecdotes now, like the times when she used to yell at offensive linemen Zach Piller and Brad Hopkins from the stands for not keeping her husband from getting hit.
"I would always fuss at Zach and Brad and say 'What are you doing? Block somebody!''' Mechelle McNair said, laughing. "And Zach would look up and say, 'I'm sorry Mechelle. We are trying.' Zach would always apologize and say 'I'm sorry.' Brad would look up and go 'Shhhh.' It was good times, really good times."
But, she admits, it wasn't always funny back then. Not when she saw her husband in pain.
"I can't tell you how many times he told me, 'I'm not playing today. I am hurting so bad,''' Mechelle McNair recalled.
"There were weeks where he could barely move. I'd watch him and he would have trouble putting his socks on and I would think to myself, 'No way he's playing this week.' Yet, I'd get to the stadium and he'd be warming up and I would be watching and wondering, 'Why is he throwing the ball?' And then finally there he was, going into the game after he told me he was not playing.
"I just think he didn't want to let the team down and didn't want to let the fans down,'' she continued. "He always thought he was just superhuman, and I'll just rest up after the game. That was Steve."
She's proud of the legacy he left behind.
Mechelle McNair recalled how excited McNair was when the Titans pulled off the Music City Miracle, and how disappointed he was when the team came up short in the Super Bowl.
One of his proudest moments, she said, was being named co-MVP of the league in 2003. McNair was selected to three Pro Bowls during his career.
"When he got co-MVP, he was so excited about that," Mechelle McNair said. "He never showed a whole lot of emotion, but he was truly happy about that. The Super Bowl -- now that was so hard because he wanted that so bad. I have a lot of good memories from those times it's hard to name one or two. But I know Steve loved it."
When Mechelle McNair watches the Titans these days, she sees a player who in some ways reminds her of her late husband – quarterback Marcus Mariota.
"I've watched him after games and seen interviews after a loss,'' she said of Mariota. "I would tell the kids, 'That's what your dad would do. That's what your dad would say.' Steve would not blame anybody."
On Saturday night, Steve McNair will be rewarded for his work on the football field.
But he continues to make an impact on the lives of those who loved him, and still do.
"I can't tell our boys everything about being a man. But I can tell them about being respectful and humble and how to treat people the way they should be treated,'' Mechelle McNair said.
"I always tell them, no matter what, (your father) loved you,'' she continued, tearing up for a moment. "Steve did so much for his family and he worked hard, and that's what a man is supposed to do -- take care of what's theirs. Steve was a great football player, but he was also such a giving and humble person. He would have given away his last dollar, that's the kind of person he was.
"Steve did so much to make people happy. I am very proud of his legacy and I hope that he's never forgotten."
A first-round pick (3rd overall) by the Houston Oilers in the 1995 NFL Draft, Steve McNair led the Titans to the playoffs four times, including an appearance in Super Bowl XXXIV, while passing for 27,141 yards and 156 TDs in 11 seasons with the franchise. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP, Mike Mu)