NASHVILLE – Mechelle McNair cheered on her husband from the stands every Sunday at Nissan Stadium, doing her best to balance the feelings of anxiousness and excitement as the crowd roared around her.
On the football field, her husband – late Titans quarterback Steve McNair – was a bit of a magician. He was a gutsy performer who oftentimes ignored pain to perform.
He was a fan favorite.
"I enjoyed the games for the most part," Mechelle McNair said this week. "Because every time people counted them out, the Titans always seemed to find a way to get back in the game, and a lot of times Steve would be at the helm of that. I loved watching him play – it was exciting."
Except those times when No. 9 probably shouldn't have been out there.
Mechelle McNair, you see, has a degree in nursing. While she saw his winning spirit, she also saw his pain.
"I think for me being his wife, it was kind of hard, because a lot of times I knew that he was injured and he shouldn't be playing," she said with a smile. "And he would tell me a lot of times before he left the house that he wasn't going to play, but he would still end up out there on that field – that happened too many times to count.
"So for me, I was always wondering: How bad is this going to get? But Steve, he could handle it. It would take an act of God to sit him down because he felt like if he could play a little bit, he was going to do it. He didn't want to let anybody down. He felt like that was his job, and if he could be out there, he was going to do it. … That was just Steve, and I think that is why so many people respected him."
On Sunday, Mechelle McNair will return to Nissan Stadium with her two growing boys, Tyler and Trent, along with Steve McNair's mother, his brothers, and a big group of family members and friends from Mississippi.
It will be a special day, as McNair's No.9 jersey will be retired during a halftime ceremony during Sunday's home opener against the Indianapolis Colts. At the same time, Eddie George's No.27 jersey will also be retired by the team.
"They were great friends," Mechelle said, "so it is only fitting that they would get their numbers retired together. They were a dynamic duo."
The third overall draft pick in 1995 by the Houston Oilers, McNair made the No.9 a special one during his career.
McNair played from 1995-2005 with the Oilers/Titans before playing his final two NFL seasons (2006-2007) with the Baltimore Ravens. In 11 seasons with the Titans, McNair set team records and accumulated the most wins of any quarterback in Titans/Oilers history.
It was McNair who led Tennessee's famous drive that ended up one-yard short of forcing overtime in Super Bowl XXXIV. McNair also made a big impact in the Nashville community through the Steve McNair Foundation. He was selected as the 2005 Titans Walter Payton Award Winner, given to the team's Community Man of the Year. He was a four-time Pro Bowler, and he was co-MVP of the NFL with Colts quarterback Peyton Manning in 2003.
McNair threw for 31,304 passing yards and 174 touchdowns in his career while also running for 3,590 yards and 37 touchdowns before retiring in April 2008.
Roughly 15 months later, McNair was tragically killed in Nashville on July 4, 2009.
But his memory remains alive around the team, and in the city.
In an interview with Titans Online this week, Mechelle McNair said she still feels the love.
"We still feel honored when we watch the games and they show the stands and we see the No.9 jerseys in the stands," she said. "It's always a blessing to know all the hard work he put in on that field, that people are still respecting him and giving him that acknowledgment: "He was a warrior, and he did his job."
"The boys, they are very proud of their father. We were talking about it the other night, and they are so proud to know that people respect their dad enough to want to retire his number and to know that no one will be able to wear his number again -- that is a big deal to them. For me and the boys, we feel honored, and we feel like it's well-deserved. And I'm thankful to the Titans for doing this for Steve and for our family."
Titans Online looks back at franchise legends Eddie George and Steve McNair in Super Bowl XXXIV. (AP Photos)
It won't be Mechelle McNair's first trip to Nissan Stadium since her late husband's playing days.
She was there a few years ago when Tyler, now a college junior, and Trent, a high school sophomore, served as the Honorary 12th Titans.
When she recalled Steve's playing days, one of the first things that came to mind was the expression on his face captured in a photo taken during the Music City Miracle.
"Now that was a happy moment," she said.
She'll never forget the heartbreaking ending to Super Bowl XXXIV a few weeks later that same season, and the guts her husband showed down the stretch.
"Just seeing him work so hard to try and get that Super Bowl," she said. "I would love for him to have had that championship, but it wasn't in God's plans."
Mechelle McNair still sees her late husband in her growing boys.
She does her best to carry on his legacy, and she encourages her sons to do the same.
On Sunday, No.9 will be cheered one more time in the stadium of fans who adored him.
Once again, Mechelle McNair expects to be filled with emotions.
"It will be a bittersweet moment," she said. "We would love to have Steve there with us with that big, beautiful smile, and to be able to see this happen for himself. But for me, and my boys and the entire family, we are just overjoyed that he is getting the respect that he deserves. He played hard, he loved his job, and he worked so hard to make people happy.
"I am very proud of his legacy and I hope that he's never forgotten."
TitansOnline.com reflects on special moments with Steve McNair and his family with the Titans. (Donn Jones Photography.com)
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)
BE A PART OF HISTORY
This Sunday, September 15 will be a special day as the Titans retire QB Steve McNair's No. 9 jersey and RB Eddie George's No. 27 jersey during halftime of the team's home opener vs the Indianapolis Colts.
Don't miss this amazing day in franchise history!