Thursday, July 16, 2009
Behind The Scoreboard
Practically anyone can tell you that the days surrounding our latest holiday were filled with surprises and sadness. The surprises caught us mostly unawares. The sadness mesmerized many of us. There is no opportune time for sadness. It usually hits when the spirit and body are devoted to an entirely different venue.
Such was the case of Michael Jackson and Steve “Air” McNair. The former had a cult following that would rival, if not surpass, that of Elvis Presley. The latter had no cult, just fans who knew and appreciated what he did in his 36 years here on Earth. McNair came from the small town of Mount Olive, about 38 miles from Hattiesburg with almost a thousand inhabitants. If you are going down Hwy. 49, on your way to the coast, chances are you don’t pay the road sign a lot of attention. And that probably doesn’t bother the citizens of Mt. “O” that much. They gave the sports world their most favorite son.
We were getting ready for the annual “water gun war” on July 4 and Claude Vinson Jr. was about to give his “General Patton” speech when he received a text. Frowning, he told the group McNair and his wife had been killed in a horrible accident, according to an initial report. There were quite a few young persons in the yard who probably hadn’t heard of McNair, but the pall fell over the entire group. That was McNair’s persona.
McNair started his career at Alcorn State about the same time that I started at The South Reporter. It wasn’t long before his gridiron exploits were grabbing the attention of the entire Southwest. Johnny Daniels and I often made the trip down the “Big Road” to catch “Air” McNair at Veterans Stadium. Before and after, there was always a swell of print and broadcast media surrounding the star quarterback. Celebrity didn’t change him; it became him. He was the most unpretentious person one could meet.
Now he is referred to as a legend, icon and superstar. And he was, and is, all of those things, but “Air” McNair would never have used any of those adjectives to describe himself. That was the type of person that he was. He was a Heisman finalist in 1994, went on to lead the Titans to their only Super Bowl appearance in 2000. He blamed himself when the Titans came up yards short in losing to the St. Louis Rams. He went on to share NFL Most Valuable Player honors with Peyton Manning in 2003.
McNair was drafted by the Houston Oilers when they were still in Texas and played one season with the team in Memphis in 1997, before they settled in Nashville and became the Tennessee Titans. He played his last two seasons with the Baltimore Ravens.
It was hours later on the 4th before we found that the original report received was erroneous. It was not McNair’s wife who had been killed and it wasn’t accidental. It was a senseless, violent tragedy.
And once again, it is hammered home that all of our heroes are, in the end, human.
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