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For a talent that seemed so explosive, so promising and so revolutionary, it was sad to see it end like this. Not with a bang – or in this case, with a long toss or a mad dash – but simply petering out.
It was injuries that did in Steve McNair, the end result of over a decade of fast-paced, physical quarterbacking. Unlike his college career, McNair was never much more then a marginal quarterback. In his lone superbowl appearance, his Titans came just shy, a half-yard short.
He wasn’t the first quarterback who could scramble, nor was he the first with a powerful arm.
But, when he was at his best, he was able to meld the two together and become hard to stop. He was a gritty, physical player who led his teams and played through the injuries that plagued his career.
In his best season, 2003, he averaged about eight yards a pass and threw for 24 touchdowns and over 3,200 yards. And he rushed for another four touchdowns on top of that. The Titans went 12-4 that season, good enough for a Wild Card birth.
They lost in the second round of the playoffs on a frozen Gillette Stadium that season, in a 17-14 thriller against the Patriots. It was the last time McNair played that late in the postseason.
In an era that will be remembered more for success of players like Tom Brady, Payton Manning or Brett Farve, McNair could prove to be the more influential, both in his style of play and in that he was one of the few Black starting quarterbacks in this decade.
Since he joined the NFL in 1995, quarterbacks such as Michael Vick, Donovan McNabb and Vince Young have followed in his path, a mobile threat style of play. The Black quarterback has become much more visible – when he was drafted in 1995, only Warren Moon and Randall Cunningham were starting.
He was maybe one of the first quarterbacks you could legitimately call a duel threat. There were five seasons where he rushed for 400 or more yards and two where he rushed for eight touchdowns. His QB Rating was constantly above 100, and maxed out at 127 in 2003, the season he won the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award.
However, it is his college numbers that really stand out.
While playing for Alcorn State in the early 1990s, McNair put up unbelievable numbers: in 1994, for instance, he passed for nearly 5,000 yards, for 44 touchdowns on top of his 936 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground.
In his final game, against Jackston State in November of 1994, McNair threw for five touchdowns and over 500 yards.
He was named to the first-team of the Division 1-AA All-America team that season, and was drafted third overall in 1994 by the Houston Oilers.
Is he a hall of famer? While he never won the big game, his numbers are pretty solid. He won an MVP trophy. He won 75 per cent of the games he started. He is one of only three QBs to have over 30,000 passing yards and 3,000 rushing yards.
The other two? Steve Young and Fran Tarkenton. If they’re in hall, why shouldn’t McNair be?