As head coach, he had the primary responsibility of trying to keep the franchise on course despite the many distractions created by a vagabond existence. Before ending up in Nashville, the team had no real place to call home, yet, thanks to Fisher’s guidance, it had remarkable stability.
However, the Titans likely would never have pulled off the move as well as they did without the efforts of Steve McNair.
The Houston Oilers had made him the third overall pick of the 1995 draft with the expectation that he would become a top-flight quarterback. That, alone, was an enormous challenge. The repeated changing of addresses between Texas and Tennessee made it even more daunting, especially in McNair’s formative seasons.
And McNair handled it exceptionally well.
His tragic death is a cause for refection about his NFL career. I think McNair will be remembered as one of the better quarterbacks to play the game. I also think he won’t ever be as appreciated as much as he should have been for what he did on the field.
McNair’s skills allowed him to achieve so much individually, including two Pro Bowl selections, all for the Titans. His play was largely responsible for making the Titans a team Nashville could embrace, especially after he led them to the Super Bowl after the 1999 season and came close to hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy after a thrilling performance against the St. Louis Rams.
In 13 seasons (two with the Ravens), McNair performed well enough to be recognized as one of the best at his position. His ability to make game-breaking plays on his feet didn’t allow him to receive enough recognition for what he could do with his arm.
McNair was one of only three quarterbacks in NFL history to throw for more than 30,000 yards and run for 3,000 yards. Fran Tarkenton and Steve Young are the other two, putting McNair in impressive company.
Even more impressive was the grit McNair displayed while battling to overcome injuries. His physical issues got so bad in 2002 that he wasn’t able to practice before the final five games of the season. Despite not practicing, he made every start and led the Titans on a five-game winning streak. They finished with an 11-5 record and a second appearance in the AFC Championship Game in four years.
McNair shared NFL MVP honors with Peyton Manning in 2003. And he helped the Baltimore Ravens to a 13-3 finish in 2006, his next-to-last season in the league.
Is McNair going to be selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Not likely. He doesn’t have the numbers or the championship hardware.
Still, McNair was a dynamic player. He was a difference-maker. He was everything that a franchise quarterback is supposed to be.
And without him, we probably wouldn’t be crediting Fisher for the Titans’ move from Houston to Nashville being remembered as a resounding success.