Monday, July 6, 2009

Steve McNair: A Tribute To The Toughest Player I've Ever Seen

Under "toughness" in the dictionary, you might as well find a picture of Steve McNair. When he was taken down, he always got back up. When he sustained an injury, he always played through the pain, no matter how intense it was. In fact, there was a period of time where McNair's injuries forced him to sit out of practice during the week so that he would be healthy enough to play on Sunday. The guy was indestructible when it came to football. So when the news was released this weekend that McNair had passed away, my initial reaction was shock. I couldn't help but turn to the Steve McNair I knew from watching football, the "tough as nails" McNair.

The way he approached the game of football always appealed to me. Never did I have any official affiliation with him. I wasn't an Oilers, Titans, or Ravens fan. But I always enjoyed watching him play. He seemed to have the perfect combination of grace and toughness, skill and passion. I would definitely say that he was one of my favorite NFL quarterbacks during the better part of my childhood (easy for me to say because the Bears didn't ever have a high-caliber player under center). I was a close follower of the run that McNair's Titans made the year of the Music City Miracle, falling just one heartbreaking yard short of a Super Bowl Title.

As I look back on what McNair was like as a player, it makes it hard for me to believe the reality of the terrible tragedy that happened this past weekend. Because, if you really look at the murder scenario closely, the clues point to something rather negative on McNair's part. He didn't pull the trigger or anything, but let's face it...he was a married man and he'd obviously been dating another woman for months. And he'd clearly been associating himself with someone who had a couple of loose screws. He was staying in a small condo that instead of screaming "wealthy athlete," it reeked of scandalous, sneeky activity. The whole incident simply seems fishy. As a matter of fact, whether this is right or not, it makes the everyday fan look at the situation and question McNair's character.

For me, I liken it to the recent Michael Jackson conversation. How do you choose to remember him? Do you look at Michael as a hideous, plastic alleged-pedofile or do you still only think of him as one of the greatest dancers, performers, and singers of all time. Now, I'm not going to put this McNair tragedy on anywhere near the same level as the Michael Jackson story, but it is a bit similar. Because as I sit here and remember McNair, his play on the field is what comes to mind first, even if I'm aware of all of the disappointing details of his murder. So when Michael Jackson passed away, sure I thought of his classic songs, but I also thought about all of the odd, gross, and disturbing information that followed him around. And I think that it's clearly a product of when I grew up. I never really knew the young phenom version of Michael Jackson. All I really saw was the pale, fabricated Michael Jackson. But with McNair, I grew up watching his toughness and his on-field heroics...and now the new details of his murder don't seem to bother me as much.

I don't mean to make a ridiculous comparison here, but I honestly think the parallel makes sense when I go back and look at the situation. I also want to clarify that I'm not writing this to villify McNair. Yes, he obviously had some issues with his relationships and he also appeared to have been at least mildly involved in some shady activities. But I don't want to imply that these issues make him worthy of being tabbed a bad person because I really don't believe that is the case.

McNair's murder was a terrible tragedy and he was most certainly the victim. It was definitely not the way anybody envisioned such a tough, hard-nosed player moving on. And it just goes to show you that even the people like McNair, who was so incredibly rock solid on the football field, can find themselves in situations like the one over the weekend. When the news broke, it was just so odd to hear that he was the victim because when he played, he always seemed to be the one on top.

As the incident is investigated further, I'm sure more details will be released with both negative and positive implications towards McNair's character. But my lasting memory of him will not depend on the emergence of those details. It will be solely based on what he did on the football field. In the NFL, you're expected to be tough and you're expected to be able to handle anything that comes your way. But Steve McNair embodied something above and beyond that expectation...and that is how I choose to remember him.

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