June 7, 2006: I woke up late that morning to shouting. My family was ecstatic: Tennessee Titans Pro Bowl quarterback Steve McNair had been traded to our hometown Baltimore Ravens.
The next day, buzz about McNair’s arrival encompassed my school. I could not walk in the halls without a teacher or classmate asking my opinion about the trade. The wait for a quarterback since the short-lived days of Trent Dilfer had finally come to an end.
Weeks later, training camp opened in Westminster, Maryland. Thousands gathered each day to watch the former Number 3 Draft pick. At the end of the practice, the Ravens lined up to sign autographs. Unfortunately, I missed McNair, and to say the least, I was disappointed.
2006 Home Opener vs. Raiders: A week earlier, Baltimore had opened the season by putting on a clinic both offensively and defensively in a 27-0 romp over the Buccaneers. “McNair Mania” was in full swing. I remember walking through the gates of M&T Bank Stadium and seeing a sea of purple number 9 jerseys. My dad and I were in awe. We could not believe that McNair, a former enemy, one who had put daggers so often in the hearts of Baltimoreans, had so quickly become as beloved as any Raven. The Ravens went on to win, 28-6.
2006 Week 4 vs. Chargers: San Diego jumped out to an early lead after Malcom Floyd’s 31-yard touchdown catch. Baltimore clawed back, but still trailed heading into the final minutes of the fourth quarter. McNair then led a drive for the ages, culminating in a game-winning touchdown pass to Todd Heap. At that moment, the stadium erupted. Steve McNair had officially become Baltimore’s hero, one who possessed the poise and toughness to overcome any challenge.
We drove home that night, talking excitedly about the game. Everyone felt empathy for the Chargers. We knew the feeling of losing in the closing seconds to McNair, and we were thankful to be on the winning side this time.
2006 Week 10 at Titans: This game was a battle between mentor and protégé, McNair versus Vince Young. The Titans jumped out to a 26-7 second quarter lead. All was hopeless. The Ravens still could not beat Tennessee on the road, I thought. Surprisingly, the 2003 NFL co-MVP rallied Baltimore back for a 27-26 win. After the game, my mom and I went to get food for the family. As we pulled up to the restaurant, she said, “You know, maybe this is our year. We might be the team of destiny.”
2006 AFC Divisional Playoffs vs. Colts: McNair threw two interceptions as the Colts won, 15-6. The Alcorn State product did not play his best, but fans and the media blamed the play-calling of head coach Brian Billick.
2007 season: Expectations were incredibly high for McNair’s second season. However, nagging injuries forced Kyle Boller into the starting lineup. Injuries, controversial calls, and a lack of execution resulted in a 6-10 season.
McNair was constantly in and out of the lineup. Nevertheless, I talked to him before every home game. The quarterback was always polite and courteous, and it was almost impossible to tell whether or not he was injured.
During the middle of the season, my younger sister saw McNair outside a local sports store. He had noticed that she was wearing soccer cleats and, instead of simply signing an autograph, stopped to ask about her game. Fifteen minutes later, the conversation ended. Immediately, she called and spoke endlessly about the classiness of McNair.
This past weekend, I heard the shouting again. This time it marked a tragedy, the death of one of the NFL’s greats, Steve McNair. Throughout the country, and specifically in both Tennessee and in Baltimore, we mourn his death. His talent, toughness, and leadership were unique, but they paled in comparison to his qualities as a person.
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