The League

Gene Wang
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Gene Wang

A sports staff writer at The Washington Post

Tough as They Come

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Steve McNair represented everything good about football. He was the consummate competitor on the field and by all accounts carried himself as a professional off of it. His accountability earned him respect in the locker room from both teammates and the media, and his humility was a virtue so refreshing in this era of end-zone celebrations and contract holdouts.

McNair's finest moment may have come during his only Super Bowl appearance, when he rallied Tennessee from a 16-0 deficit against St. Louis on Jan. 31, 2000. In the closing seconds with no timeouts left, McNair completed a slant to Kevin Dyson inside the Rams 5-yard line, but linebacker Mike Jones made the saving tackle at the 1 to preserve a 23-16 victory for St. Louis in Super Bowl XXXIV.

Despite the loss, McNair showed uncommon poise under duress. He never panicked, and he never allowed his teammates to think they were going to lose. That's the kind of leadership McNair brought to the huddle, and it's what made him one of the most decorated quarterbacks of his generation.

Then of course there was his legendary pain threshold. McNair often spent more time in the training room than at practice during the week, but come Sunday afternoon, he always seemed to will his body onto the playing field. Nothing endears a player more to teammates than persistence through pain, and by that standard, McNair practically had no peer.

McNair's success in the NFL also had a social impact far greater than perhaps anything he accomplished on the field. Much in the same way Marlin Briscoe, James Harris or Doug Williams inspired generations of African-American quarterbacks, so too did McNair. His story was Hollywood all the way -- a young man born in the poorest state in America plays at Division I-AA Alcorn State, then gets picked No. 3 overall in the draft and goes on to stardom even he probably never envisioned.

The NFL lost more than just a great football player on July 4, when McNair was found dead in a Nashville apartment with gunshot wounds to his head. He was a father, a husband and a mentor, and we all grieve for his immediate family and as well as his brotherhood in the NFL fraternity.

Perhaps the best way to honor McNair's legacy will come during the season. The next time you're watching a quarterback lead his team down the field in the closing seconds by completing impossible throws while avoiding wave after wave of pass rushers, take a moment to remember McNair. Few did it better than him, and all football fans should be thankful we got the opportunity to watch and admire him for all these years.

By Gene Wang  |  July 5, 2009; 12:00 PM ET  | Category:  Baltimore Ravens , Crime , Gene Wang Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Posted by: Badwisky | July 6, 2009 12:12 PM

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