Fisher says ‘The Steve I knew was a great person’

Monday, July 6, 2009 at 5:21pm
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Titans coach Jeff Fisher talks about Steve McNair Monday, while former teammates Eddie George and Brad Hopkins listen solemnly.  Jude Ferrara/The City Paper

Tennessee Titans’ coach Jeff Fisher went to great lengths Monday afternoon to preserve a positive legacy for former quarterback Steve McNair, who was murdered Saturday in a room where a 20-year-old girl with whom he had a relationship also died.

Fisher repeatedly referenced “the Steve McNair that I knew” as he talked about McNair’s love for his family, his teammates and his community at a press conference at the Titans facility, Baptist Sports Park in MetroCenter.

The coach was joined by former teammates of McNair, including Eddie George, Blaine Bishop and Brad Hopkins.

“The Steve McNair that I knew would want me to say, ‘Celebrate my life for what I did on the field, for what I did in the community, the kind of teammate that I was,’ ” Fisher said. “That’s what Steve that I knew would want me to say.”

Fisher’s first full season as head coach was 1995, the year the then-Houston Oilers drafted McNair third overall out of Division I-AA Alcorn State.

McNair played 11 seasons for the Oilers and Tennessee Titans (all under Fisher), nine of them as a starter. He made the Pro Bowl four times in his career, was the NFL’s 2003 co-MVP and led the Titans to their only Super Bowl appearance.

“I’ve known him for 15 years, endured wins and losses, joy and laughter, sadness,” Fisher said. “I watched one of the greatest competitors of all time on the field do whatever it took to stay on the field. I watched one of the best teammates (one) could ever have be a teammate to everybody, extend a hand to everybody.

“The Steve McNair that I knew was a great person. …I will miss him, and I ask you to honor what he did on the field and in the community. What he was is a tremendous teammate,” he added. “That is his legacy, and I’m proud to have been a part of that.”

He did not say whether any plans are being made to memorialize McNair either at LP Field or at the team’s MetroCenter training facility, but indicated something is likely to be done in that regard.

“The organization …the National Football League and everyone else will do the right thing as far as Steve’s life is concerned,” Fisher said.

Fisher was in the Persian Gulf with other current and former NFL head coaches as part of USO goodwill tour when he received the news of McNair’s passing. He was in Kuwait, preparing to catch a plane back to the United States when former running back George called and broke the news.

In reflecting on McNair’s life, Fisher said he continually came back to one particular moment, two days before Thanksgiving in 2005. The coach was in a hospital recovery room waiting for his son to return from minor surgery when he saw the quarterback amble past the door with the help of a walker and his wife, Mechelle.

“He was there to get an epidural injection in his back just so he could walk and practice that week,” Fisher said. “Those types of stories are the things you never heard about. You witnessed the triumphant moments on the field and the comebacks and all those kinds of things, but it was those things (he did in order to play) that made him special.”

Fisher noted that McNair’s competitiveness was not evident at all times. He pointed out that McNair liked to watch Gunsmoke, Andy Griffith or Walker, Texas Ranger on nights prior to games.

During games, though, his desire was never in question even if he did not always demonstrate his passion publicly.

“He was a very, very quiet competitor,” Fisher said. “He had this drive — this internal drive — this motivation that as coaches we’d like to tap into and spread around. It was just a very, very unique quality.”

All too typically, however, McNair also had human failings — a fact even Fisher could not ignore.

“My hope is that we can get past the circumstances and let those go and dwell and stay focused on the type of player and person that he was,” Fisher said. “We all (are) given the right to judge. My hope is that Steve will be remembered and also forgiven, but remembered for what he did and what he meant to this organization.

“… The Steve McNair that I knew would want me to say, ‘I’m sorry. I’m not perfect. We all make decisions sometimes that are not in our best interests. Please forgive me.’”