The list of first-time nominees for next year's Hall of Fame Class include some notable names:
Listed By Position:
Quarterback: Steve McNair
Running Back: Priest Holmes
Wide Receiver:Keenan McCardell
Offensive Linemen: Larry Allen (G), Tom Nalen (C), Jonathan Ogden (T)
Defensive Linemen: Sam Adams (DT), Warren Sapp (DT), Michael Strahan (DE), Ted Washington (DT/NT), Bryant Young (DE)
Defensive Back: John Lynch (S)
Kicker: Morten Andersen
If I Had a Vote, I Would Vote For Steve McNair
The first time I heard of him...
I can remember first hearing of "Air McNair" as he was called, who became a sensation when he started setting all sorts of passing records while attending Alcorn State.
I also remember thinking that Steve McNair, should he become a quarterback in the National Football League, would just dazzle and amaze.
When I'd heard that McNair was quarterbacking "tiny, division 1-AA" Alcorn State, two names sprung to mind: Darrell Green and Jerry Rice. Both of whom had Hall of Fame careers, both of whom were now enshrined in Canton.
Darrell Green went to Texas A&I, then became a stalwart for the Washington Redskins, starting at corner back for an amazing 20 years. He developed a reputation for hard work, excellence on and off the field, and was a player that other teams had to game-plan for.
Jerry Rice starred at Mississippi Valley State, was snatched up by the San Fransisco 49ers, and made history playing wide receiver. Rice was known for a tireless work ethic, intelligence, maturity and excellence on and off the field, too. Defensive coaches, for years, had to game-plan for Jerry Rice.
Naturally, despite the expected "he's from a small school" criticism I heard, my gut told me to expect special things from "Air McNair".
What made McNair special was his decision-making, and his unique, feared, rushing talent. Drafted third overall by the Houston Oilers (now Tennessee Titans) by visionary head coach Jeff Fisher, McNair spent the bulk of his first two pro seasons backing up quarterback Chris Chandler, getting very limited action most of the way.
It wasn't until 1997 that Steve McNair became the starter for the Oilers. He led the team to an 8-8 mark while setting a franchise record for FEWEST interceptions in a season, with 13. Alongside running back Eddie George, McNair fed a healthy rushing attack for the Oilers, reaching the end zone eight times.
The 1998 season saw great improvements in McNair's game. Only throwing ten interceptions all season, he set career high stats by throwing for 15 touchdowns and 3,228 yards. The win-loss record, however, had not improved.
Partying Like It's 1999:
The 1999 season was one of the most memorable seasons I've witnessed. In the NFC there was a formerly unknown supermarket clerk lighting it up as quarterback of the St. Louis Rams. Kurt Warner's "magic ride" for St. Louis grabbed the bulk of the headlines.
Steve McNair's 1999 season was special in its own right. Now officially the Titans, the team rolled to a 13-3 record behind McNair's arm and his legs. Thanks to "The Music City Miracle" Tennessee defeated Buffalo en route to playoff wins over Indianapolis and Jacksonville. McNair suddenly found himself quarterbacking a Super Bowl team.
Super Bowl XXXIV was special. It was exciting. And it ended in heartbreaking fashion for McNair and the Titans, as Kevin Dyson's desperation came up one yard short of the game tying touchdown.
(Author's Note: Oddly enough, it was Kevin Dyson who caught Frank Wycheck's lateral and scored the touchdown in "The Music City Miracle", and was the last gasp hope of a title for the Titans that year.)
McNair Was Entrenched as Tennessee's Starting Quarterback
During the following seasons, McNair was quite successful, notching double digit win totals and annual appearances in the playoffs. In 2002, he came within one game of a return Super Bowl trip, losing to the Oakland Raiders. That particular loss had a negative impact on McNair, he was charged with a DUI and gun possession, and though the charges were ultimately dropped, his reputation had taken a hit.
McNair rebounded in stunning fashion in the 2003 season, passing his way to a co-MVP award with Peyton Manning. Impressively, he earned the award despite missing two games due to an injured calf.
The injury bug bit McNair in the 2004 season, a bruised sternum which led to him missing all but four games that year. A poor showing in 2005 marked the decline and end of his career with the Titans. Tennessee would trade McNair to the Baltimore Ravens in June 2006, and history would soon be made.
McNair started all 16 games in 2006 for the Ravens, leading them to a 13-3 record and marking the second time he'd seemingly come back from near-obscurity.
This re-emergence was short lived, injuries forced him from games in 2007, and ultimately in 2008, Steve McNair retired from the NFL.
One year later came the gruesome tragedy that was McNair's death. This event affected me in that I'd followed him his entire career, rooted for him in the Super Bowl, and was always amazed at the plays he was capable of making.
Why The Hall Of Fame?
Steve McNair was knocked down, nearly completely out of football twice. He set the standard for the modern "prototype quarterback". He showed that a running quarterback can pass, too. And it is a fitting tribute and honor, which he most certainly deserves.