NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Steve McNair earned the respect of his fellow NFL players for shaking off defenders and injuries. That same blue-collar playing style won the love of fans amazed at how the quarterback kept showing up for work — and winning.
He endeared himself more with his charity work. Not just from the checks he handed out, but for throwing himself into the efforts, like he did when loading boxes onto tractor-trailers bound for Hurricane Katrina victims.
Publicly, McNair was a happily married man and proud father of four sons who split his time between his Mississippi farm and a home in Music City, where celebrities are cherished, not hassled.
But when he was found shot to death on the Fourth of July with his 20-year-old girlfriend dead nearby, a darker side of his private life was suddenly thrust into the spotlight.
“People have certain things that they do in life,” said McNair’s longtime friend Robert Gaddy, who called 911. “We don’t need to look on the situation at this time (but) on the fact we just lost a great member of society.”
Even McNair’s longtime agent said he didn’t know about the former quarterback’s relationship with Saleh Kazemi until news broke of the deaths. Now police call McNair the victim of homicide, though they aren’t yet ready to label Kazemi’s death a suicide despite her single bullet wound to the head.
“As good as he was on the football field, that couldn’t touch the person,” agent Bus Cook said Sunday, still shaken by McNair’s death. “I mean it just couldn’t.”
Hints of a problem with alcohol surfaced in May 2003 when a Nashville police officer pulled McNair over on suspicion of drunk driving. Police said the quarterback’s blood alcohol content was .18 percent — well over Tennessee’s legal limit. He also was charged for having a 9mm weapon with him, but all the charges were later dropped.
McNair was charged with drunken driving in 2007 because he let his brother-in-law drive his pickup truck. Those charges were later dropped when the DUI charge against the brother-in-law was reduced to reckless driving.
And McNair could have been charged again Thursday night when the same officer who arrested him in 2003 stopped a 2007 Cadillac Escalade driven by Kazemi and registered to both her and McNair. Kazemi was arrested on a DUI charge, and he was allowed to leave in a taxi.
Dr. Sherry Blake, a clinical psychologist who practices in the Atlanta area, has counseled athletes and entertainers about the temptations of easy drugs, alcohol and women. She talked Sunday about the challenges even for those with strong family ties, though not about the McNair case specifically.
“Individuals can’t get enough of the limelight. It’s easy to have people telling you how great and wonderful you are rather than otherwise,” Blake said.
On the football field, he simply was “Air McNair,” a winner.
McNair still holds the NCAA’s Football Championship Series (formerly Division I-AA) records for career yards passing (14,496) and total offense (16,823) from his days at tiny Alcorn State in Mississippi.
He played 13 NFL seasons starting with the then-Houston Oilers, led Tennessee to its famous last-second 2000 Super Bowl loss to the St. Louis Rams. He ended his career in Baltimore last season, after being traded away by the Titans after they drafted Vince Young as a replacement to the aching and expensive veteran.
A four-time Pro Bowler, he shared the NFL’s MVP award with Peyton Manning in 2003.
“Many of our defensive players talked about what a huge challenge it was playing against him,” Manning said in a statement. “He and I had some great battles against each other.”
McNair never acknowledged any of his numerous injuries on the field, even in one game when the painkilling shot wore off before he drove the Titans to a touchdown and ran in for the tying 2-point conversion. Then he led them to the winning field goal.
CSN: The Super Bowl's golden anniversary will be held in the Golden State. The new stadium, which opens in 2014, in Santa Clara will host Super Bowl L two years later, the NFL announced Tuesday.
Victim’s sister discusses McNair relationship
July 5: The sister of Sahel Kazemi talks about Sahel's relationship with former NFL player Steve McNair. Sahel Kazemi and McNair were found dead Saturday.
Steve McNair (1973-2009)
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