McNair retires, leaves legacy of toughness behind

Friday, April 18, 2008 at 1:14am

Former Tennessee Titans standout quarterback Steve McNair announced his retirement from the NFL Thursday, ending his 13-year standout career.

“It was a hard decision but I think it’s a good decision,” McNair said at his news conference at the Ravens’ facility in Owings Mill, Md. “I'm always a team player first. Mentally, I could go out there and play. But physically, I just couldn’t do it anymore — not to the capacity that I need to help my teammates win a football game.”

McNair, 35, spent the first 11 seasons of his NFL career with the Titans franchise after being the third overall pick in the 1995 draft.

McNair, who became a full-time starter in 1997 when the franchise settled into Tennessee, helped the Titans to the franchise’s only Super Bowl appearance in its 48-year history, leading the 1999 team to the AFC Championship. In the Titans’ 23-16 loss to the Super Bowl XXXIV loss to the St. Louis Rams, McNair engineered a final drive that came up one-yard short as receiver Kevin Dyson was stopped after catching a McNair pass on the game’s final play.

“He was the face of this franchise for nearly 10 years,” Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. “As he developed, so did the franchise. He was instrumental in leading this franchise to its only Super Bowl appearance. He played in many games that no one else would have been able to play.”

His best season came in 2003 when he was co-Most Valuable Player of the NFL. That season, he completed 250 of 400 passes with 3,215 yards, 24 touchdowns and just seven interceptions, sharing the MVP honor with Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts.

“He’s been to a Super Bowl and won an MVP,” former Titans receiver Chris Sanders said. “I think he has accomplished just about everything he wanted to do in football. He was as tough a competitor as I have ever played with. He loved to compete, and he loved to win.”

That competitiveness and leadership served McNair and the Titans well during his time with the franchise.

“I’ve got a ton of memorable Mac moments,” said St. Louis Rams wide receiver Drew Bennett, who was McNair’s Titans teammate from 2001-05. “He taught me so much about how to be a leader, how not to get frustrated when things weren’t going well. He was definitely the coolest under pressure and knew how to handle every situation.”

One of McNair’s most astounding traits was his ability to achieve success, despite numerous injuries that often curtailed his practice time.

“For a guy that practiced as little as he did at some points in his career, I don’t think there was a more natural football player,” Bennett said.

It was that determination to play that left an impression on Titans offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger.

“I’m just glad that I got a chance to be around him and be part of his career,” said Heimerdinger, under whose tutelage McNair blossomed. “The two most memorable things that always come to mind about Steve are the game against the New York Giants [in 2002] where I didn’t think he was going to play because his back hurt so bad, but he went out and brought us back, got the two-point conversion and we won it overtime.

“Then there was the Pittsburgh playoff win [2002 season] where his finger was completely dislocated and I thought he was done. But he came down and said, ‘Give me the next play,’ and looked at him like he was crazy.”

After the MVP season, McNair’s tenure with the Titans began to come unraveled.

He was bothered by a sternum injury in 2004 that eventually required surgery. The injury limited him to just eight games that season.

Offensive coordinator Norm Chow came on board in 2005, and after that season, the

Titans looked to the future drafting Vince Young, a McNair protégé, with the third pick in the ’06 draft.

The Titans and McNair could not agree on a reworked contract, as the quarterback refused to take a pay cut from the team, which desperately needed to lower his $23 million cap figure. McNair was eventually traded to Baltimore in July 2006 for a fourth-round pick in the 2007 draft.

Young, who grew up idolizing McNair, had hoped to have the veteran mentor him before the falling out and eventual trade. The two faced off once against each other in 2006 with McNair rallying the Ravens to a 27-26 victory at LP Field.

“I love him as a father-figure, and I cherish the relationship that we have,” Young said. “He taught me so much not just about the game, but about life and I owe him a great deal. I looked up to both Steve and Brett [Favre] and with them both retiring this offseason, I hoping to be one of the guys that picks up the torch they carried for so many years.”

McNair spent two seasons with the Ravens, leading the club to the AFC playoffs in 2006 with a 13-3 mark. However, he finished last season on injured reserve with a bad shoulder. He played in just six games with the club in 2007, fueling speculation that he might retire.

McNair finishes his NFL career with 2,733 completions in 4,544 attempts for 31,304 yards with 174 touchdowns and 119 interceptions.

More than statistics, McNair’s leadership and toughness are what he will be remembered for.

“My career speaks for itself. I can reflect back on it and not change a thing. I played the game with a lot of passion and a lot of heart, and it showed over the course of my 13 years,” McNair said.

Added his long-time agent Bus Cook, “He was so calm and a natural born leader. He was the E.F. Hutton of his team. When Steve spoke, they listened.”

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