Bestowed with 91 career victories, and the honor of leading the Titans franchise to their only Super Bowl appearance, the Steve McNair era looks to be the most successful one in the history of the Oilers/Titans franchise.
With apologies to the early AFL title teams, the Luv Ya Blue Oilers of Earl Campbell and the run-and-shoot years with Warren Moon, McNair’s career mirrors the transition from Houston to Nashville and represents the most glorious era in franchise history.
We count down McNair’s best highlights during his 13-year NFL career:
9. Backbreaker vs. Bucs. (Nov. 8, 1998). In a rare national television appearance on a Sunday night, the then-transitioning Tennessee Oilers travel to Tampa Bay.
A young team with no real home base yet is still trying to find itself in what would eventually be the third of three straight 8-8 seasons. But the nation discovers the star quality of McNair, who provides one of the first glimpses of his dynamic dual threat ability with a career-best 71-yard scramble for a touchdown.
The run helps seal the Oilers’ 31-22 victory over the Buccaneers. The victory pushes the nomadic Oilers, playing their home games at Vanderbilt Stadium that year, over the .500 mark at 5-4.
8. Return as a Raven. (Nov. 12, 2006). Following an ugly breakup with the Titans after he was barred from the facility because of liability issues and his $23 million cap figure, McNair files a grievance against the club and wins. He is eventually traded to the rival Baltimore Ravens, setting the stage for his return to LP Field and a duel with his protégé — Titans rookie quarterback Vince Young.
Thanks in part to a pair of Lamont Thompson interceptions, the Titans built a 26-7 lead, but McNair, in typical Superman fashion, rallies his new club from 19 points behind with a 373-yard passing performance, and the eventual winning touchdown pass to another former Titan, wide receiver Derrick Mason.
7. Overtime playoff win over Pittsburgh. (Jan. 11, 2003). In a game remembered for Joe Nedney’s do-over, game-winning kick in overtime, and Jeff Fisher’s shouting match with Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox, McNair outduels the Steelers gunslinging QB in one of the most exciting playoff games in franchise history.
McNair completes 27 of 44 passes for 338 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, numbers made all the more amazing by the fact that in the second half he came out for part of a series with a chunk of skin missing from his throwing hand.
Titans doctors repair McNair as best they can, and the quarterback rallies his team to Nedney’s late field goal to tie the game, and the eventual game-winner, aided by a ‘running into the kicker’ call after a Nedney miss.
6. First game at new stadium. (Sept. 12, 1999). McNair and the Titans christen what was then known as Adelphia Coliseum, their brand-new home along the Cumberland River, with an exciting 36-35 opening victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.
McNair is booed by fans after an interception, but shakes off the criticism and rallies the newly named Titans from nine points down in the final quarter for the victory, thanks to Al Del Greco’s 33-yard field goal.
McNair finishes with 341 yards passing in a game that quickly set the tone for the Titans in that Super Bowl season. Tennessee would go on to win its first 13 games in the new stadium.
5. Back from back surgery. (Oct. 31, 1999). The Titans had some Halloween tricks for the St. Louis Rams, who entered what was then known as Adelphia Coliseum, with a 6-0 record, quarterback Kurt Warner and a celebrated “Greatest Show on Turf.”
McNair had undergone back surgery just five games earlier to repair a disc problem, and the Rams’ game marked his return. McNair and the offense jumped to a quick 21-0 lead, with the quarterback showing his back was fine on a dive into the end zone for a rushing touchdown.
Though the Rams stormed back to tie the game, the Titans prevailed on Al Del Greco’s field goal, 24-21.
The game served to show that the Titans and Rams were the most elite teams in their respective conferences, and turned out to be a Super Bowl preview. McNair is named NFL Player of the Week for his efforts.
4. Rescue at Three Rivers (Sept. 24, 2000). Thanks to a sternum injury suffered against the Kansas City Chiefs, McNair was reduced to spectator status for much of the day against the Pittsburgh Steelers, watching backup Neil O’Donnell direct the offense.
When O’Donnell was dazed on a hit late in the game, he had to be assisted to the sideline with the help of Eddie George. In came McNair, cold off the bench with virtually no practice time after having the sternum injury two weeks before and a bye week to rehab the injury.
He completed three of four passes, including a key completion to Chris Sanders to keep the drive alive before connecting with rookie Erron Kinney on an 18-yard game-winning touchdown pass.
3. Comeback in the Meadowlands (Dec. 1, 2002). McNair’s performance in this 32-29 comeback victory in overtime was only part of the story. A rib strain suffered the week before had him questionable before kickoff, and most expected that backup Neil O’Donnell would get the start against the New York Giants.
McNair not only played, but had one of the defining games of his career, completing passes to nine difference receivers and three touchdowns. McNair engineered a game-tying drive, hitting Frank Wycheck with a 9-yard touchdown in the cold, blustery New Jersey winds, then scoring the tying two-point conversion on a quarterback draw.
Joe Nedney eventually won the game with an overtime field goal, sparked by three McNair completions on the final drive.
2. Scramble vs. Jacksonville in AFC Championship Game (Jan. 23, 2000). McNair threw for just 112 yards and a touchdown in the Titans’ 33-14 victory at Jacksonville. But it was his 51-yard scramble that helped set up one of two McNair 1-yard TD runs that helped make the difference for the Titans and send the team to its only Super Bowl appearance to date.
The Jags, who had their “Dare McNair” strategy, could only watch again in disbelief, as less than a month before McNair had thrown five TD passes in Nashville to beat Jacksonville.
In the playoff matchup, McNair’s two short touchdown runs were part of 26 unanswered points for Tennessee that propelled the Titans to their third victory over the Jaguars in as many tries that season.
Oh, and did we mention that McNair had spent much of the week in a walking boot to protect an injured toe. It was one of the first of many of those kinds of moments for McNair in his career.
1. Final drive Super Bowl XXXIV (Jan. 30, 2000): This is probably the most famous two-minute drive in NFL history that didn’t actually end in a comeback victory, as McNair’s pass to Kevin Dyson and the receiver’s lunge toward the end zone for the tying score came up one-yard short.
Still, McNair’s elusiveness to get away from Rams defenders Kevin Carter and DeMarco Farr on the play prior to the final one, is one of the most amazing single plays in Super Bowl history. After plenty of scrambling just to keep the play alive, McNair found Dyson for a 16-yard gain at the St. Louis 10, setting up the final play.
Somewhat lost in the legend of the final drive is that McNair helped rally Tennessee from a 16-0 deficit to tie the game, which at the time was the biggest lead ever erased in Super Bowl history.