(pic of Gridiron9 courtesy of Melanie McGee-Pace)
It has been 3 days and I am still in shock. Though he died in, to say the least, odd circumstances, for a community, city, state, and fans scattered across the world, our QB has left us.
For years, Tennessee did not have a professional sports franchise to call our own. Yes the Vols were kings of Tennessee college football and the Tigers were the kings of Tennessee college basketball, but we watched as Jacksonville got our NFL team. We watched as Vancouver got our basketball team (ironic huh???) For years, we could only imagine the possibilities of seeing our team going to a Super Bowl. We could only dream of going to pro basketball games with our parents, and one day taking our own children to those same games.
Thanks to K.S. “Bud” Adams, our pro sports thirst was finally quenched (with all apologies to the Nashville Predators). The then-Oilers would build a home in Tennessee. For a couple of years, they were a rag tag group of football players, first by playing in Memphis and then in Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville. But they were led by our QB, Steve McNair.
I remember when the Oilers would hold pep rallies on Beale St. in Memphis. Where as a lot of the players would look like they did not wanna be there, he made sure to lead the cheers. After those pep rallies, he made sure to sign as many autographs and take as many pics as he could. I had many opportunities to meet Steve McNair on many occasions, and on each one, he was always nice and smiling.
Later on, he would lead the team to Super Bowl XXXIV against the St. Louis Rams. We hung on every play. We knew we as Titans fans had a shot of winning the game in the 4th quarter because of our QB. We came up 1 yard short, which still eats away at our sports soul. But the thrill of being oh so close to glory almost makes up for not winning (almost).
We cheered when he won the MVP trophy. We cringed when Ray Lewis tackled him. We got pissed at Bud Adams & Floyd Reese for kicking him out of the door. We were glad to see him in the neighborhood after he retired. Through it all, he was our QB. He gave away free admissions to his football camps for needy kids. He gave shoes to high school football players who couldn’t afford them. He asked people to donate supplies during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and Middle Tennessee gave truckloads (he loaded the trucks). He opened a restaurant across the street from Tennessee State University when he could have opened it elsewhere. Most importantly, he did it selflessly and with a smile.
We don’t have the storied history of the Boston Red Sox, L.A. Lakers, New York Yankees, or Pittsburgh Steelers. He was our Ted Williams, our Kareem, our Joe DiMaggio, our Terry Bradshaw. Coach Jeff Fisher said it best:
“The Steve McNair that I knew was a great person. He helped put this organization on the map here in Tennessee, put it in our first Super Bowl. I will miss him, as you all will miss him. And I ask you to honor what he did on the field and in the community and he was a tremendous legacy. And that is his legacy and I am proud to have been a part of that.’’