It also told me once that a Massachusetts kid named Joe Dudek was the “Thinking Man’s Choice for the Heisman”.
It even told me on April Fool’s Day 1985 about a pitcher named Sidd Finch who threw 169 mph.
So when I got my SI on September 26, 1994 and saw the words “Hand Him The Heisman” plastered across the front of some kid wearing a gold helmet and white, No. 9 jersey with the word “BRAVES” across the chest, I pretty much figured he wouldn’t be handed the Heisman. And, given the kid was from Alcorn State, even more remote was the chance he’d ever be handed the keys to an NFL team.
Except it was pretty much spot on.
And Steve McNair — who in that article was proclaimed to be “on the same level as …Testaverde, Bledsoe, Shuler, Mirer and Dilfer” by an NFL personnel director — had a career that trumped them all.
On this Independence Day, 2009, Steve McNair — one of the most talented, respected and iron-willed quarterbacks of the Super Bowl era — died.
The unpleasant particulars of how that came to be will be uncovered piece by traumatic and grisly piece. And those details will, inevitably, be quickly recalled when we hear his name from this day forward.
McNair didn’t go undrafted like Warren Moon did 17 years earlier. He didn’t sit on the board because he went to a predominantly black, Division I-AA school as Doug Williams did when he became the first black quarterback drafted in the first round (17th out of Grambling back in 1978). He didn’t get a “don’t bother” vibe like Heisman winner Charlie Ward did coming out of Florida State in 1993.
No, McNair went third overall in 1995. He went to the Houston Oilers. He stood up to the pressure of his draft position. He made good on the promise. And in so doing he paved the way for franchises to not double-clutch when considering black quarterbacks with exquisite talent who would come next.
Williams was hailed as a trailblazer when he won a Super Bowl with the Redskins. Yet McNair cleared a more difficult obstacle. He was the first black quarterback that a team built itself around and tethered its fortunes to from Day 1. It probably isn’t a coincidence that, once it became clear McNair was the real deal, quarterbacks like Donovan McNabb, Akili Smith, Michael Vick and Vince Young were suddenly top five selections.
Yet, McNair may have paved the way for other black quarterbacks to be “franchise quarterbacks,” debate about his ability was never laced with racial undertones. The timeworn “grit vs. style”, “efficiency vs. explosiveness”, “scrambler vs. pocket passer” schisms didn’t exist with McNair because he was truly all of those things.
In the middle of his career, back in 2003 when he was 30, he shared the NFL MVP with Peyton Manning. He was at the height of his powers then, a nightmarish combination of smarts, strength, leadership and ability.
By the end of his career, after he moved from the Titans to the Ravens, he became a pinpoint, pocket passer, and consummate on-field general. By then, the years of abuse and scrambling had sapped his legs and weakened his arm, but he still got Baltimore to a 13-3 record in 2006.
Know what’s strange? I’m realizing today that I’ve only known of Steve McNair for 15 years. That he was only 36 years old.
Seemed longer. And he seemed older. And maybe that’s because he wasn’t fleeting.
How he played the game, who he was and — as much as anything — what he meant on the timeline of the NFL is not fleeting. He was everything they told us he’d be. And everything they hoped he’d be. And everyone doesn’t get to say that.
PFT: Defensive end finally finds a new team in San Diego — and for a honey of a deal that would be worth a max of $13.35 million.
PFT: Jets RB Mike Goodson was charged with five gun and drug counts Friday morning, after New Jersey State Police found the car he was riding in parked in the middle of Route 80 in Denville, N.J.
A Titan dies
See the career highs and lows of former NFL quarterback and Tennessee Titans legend Steve McNair, who was found dead on July 4.
2013 SNF Schedule
Check out the 2013 Sunday Night Football schedule.
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