As I stood next to Steve McNair during my interview with him following Super Bowl XXXIV, I couldn’t help but admire his determination, leadership and toughness.
As we mourn the loss of one of the league’s greatest players, I can’t help but think about how statistics can’t even come close to fully explaining McNair’s greatness as an NFL quarterback. While McNair became just the third quarterback in NFL history to top 30,000 yards passing and 3,500 yards rushing, I’m reminded of how he quietly endured excruciating pain in order to lead his team.
Before the start of the 2002 season with the Titans, I recall asking McNair to discuss the offseason physical battles that prevented him from throwing the ball for more than six months. McNair explained how an infection in his throwing shoulder forced doctors to insert a drainage tube in his shoulder, and he had to continuously sit up through the night. He went months without a good night’s sleep while wondering if the infection would clear up. Despite having little time to ready himself for the upcoming season, McNair started all 16 regular-season games and led the Titans to an 11-5 record and a trip to the AFC Championship Game.
It was McNair’s toughness that led his team just one yard shy of a Super Bowl XXXIV victory and it was his toughness that led him to become one of the greatest players in the history of the Titans franchise. For 13 seasons, he battled injuries like a gladiator fighting to the very end. And now, his violent ending has left many of us both stunned and shocked to our very core.
Like the Greek hero Achilles, McNair seemed unstoppable, never falling or giving in to pain. His triumphs were legendary, but unfortunately, his fall might be the one story we’ll remember most.
— Solomon Wilcots