One stinking yard. Steve McNair passed for 31,304 yards during his 13-year NFL career. Had it been 31,305, he just might’ve ended up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
McNair, 35, announced his retirement today. He worked out hard during the off season to “see how his body would react to my mind,” he said today. “My mind was feeling, yes, but my body was saying, ‘What are you doing?'”
His legacy is clear at simple: Steve McNair was one of the toughest and most versatile quarterbacks ever to play the game. He epitomized the game’s warrior mystique, playing hurt for most of the last half of his career, taking pounds and yet most often rising to play again.
He’s one of only three QBs to amass more than 30,000 yards passing and at least 3,000 rushing. The other two are Fran Tarkenton and Steve Young, both of whom are already enshrined.
So why not McNair?
One stinkin’ yard. That’s what stood between McNair and a game-tying touchdown pass in finals seconds of Super Bowl XXXIV against St. Louis eight years ago at the Georgie Dome in Atlanta. On a play that started at the 10-yard-line, McNair hit wide receiver Kevin Dyson at the six, only to watch as Rams linebacker Mike Jones corralled and wrestled him down at the one just after the clock dinged :00.
After the game, McNair cried like a baby.
“It’s always going to be there,” McNair said three years ago, referring to the single yard that will always define his career. “I don’t care how many people say that they don’t think about it, you always replay it in your mind. I think about how sad and how bad I was feeling. It was a low point in my career because I think that we had a chance to win the game if we would have gotten that yard and went into overtime.”
The final score was 23-16. But it might as well have read “0” for McNair HOF chances.
And that’s a shame. His numbers and longevity should at least give him due consideration.
He was also all that the NFL hopes its men to be. In an era too often defined by the likes of Pacman Jones, McNair was a family man of faith, a self-described country boy from Alcorn State – and a descendant, as it were, of Doug Williams, a player in whom many African Americans took pride.
The aura surrounding that day in the Georgia Dome was not quite like the one 12 years before when Williams led the Washington Redskins into Super Bowl XLI against the Denver Broncos. On that day, black America held its breath and the Redskins’ 42-10 victory, along with Williams’ courageous MVP performance, prompted what I like to call a national Negro holiday.
There was rooting for McNair, too, whom, like Williams, was nurtured at an historically black college. His loss was painful, but we moved on.
Something Steve McNair will never be able to do.