Monday, July 6, 2009

The significance of Steve McNair

Outsiders tend to view Mississippi by its faults. They look at the statistics showing that Mississippi is the fattest state, the poorest state and the state with the most teenage pregnancies and make their own negative judgments. As a Mississippian (born and raised) living in Minnesota, these statistics are brought up to me often as a way of trying to prove that Minnesota is a superior state than Mississippi. Usually these statistics and the articles surrounding them are brought up to me as a joke, even though being obese, pregnant and poor doesn't sound really funny. Regardless of the joke's effectiveness it is clear that outsiders look down on Mississippi.

However, one thing Mississippians can be proud of is the success of their football players. One generation's Archie Manning turns into another generation's Walter Payton, which then quickly turns into another generation's Jerry Rice or Brett Favre. All of those players were born and attended college in Mississippi before heading off to tremendous success in the NFL. People from Mississippi relate and identify with these players to the point that they become icons in their home state.

My generation's football icon was Steve "Air" McNair. He was born a couple of weeks and ten years before me in a town an hour south of Jackson. He went to Alcorn St. during a time that I started really cementing myself as a lifelong sports fan. I vividly remember the front page of Clarion Ledger touting the skills of Air McNair. Also, I remember my Dad coming up to me and letting me know that he was able to get tickets to the Alcorn St-Jackson St. game during Steve McNair's last year. I had and still have never been more excited for a game.

The Alcorn St.-Jackson St. game dubbed the Capital City Classic is an annual football game held at Jackson's Memorial Stadium between the two historically black colleges. According to the website it is "*doubtedtly the most prolific and recognizable for the African American community in the state of Mississippi." It is a huge game and one that was even bigger in 1994 because of Steve McNair.

*I don't know what the word doubtedly means, but if I had to guess it would mean something like "questionable" or "disputed." I don't expect that is what the website was trying to convey, so I am going to assume the Capital City Classic meant undoubtedly since that makes sense in the context of the sentence.

Steve McNair was in the process of setting many offensive records as a the quarterback for Alcorn St, and my Dad thought it would be a good idea to go see the game. Of course a lot of people thought the same thing, and the rumor was that Memorial Stadium sold 10,000 more tickets than they had seats. This led to people who got seats to stay in them for fear of losing them. Our seats were in the end zone and provide a great vantage point to Air McNair's long bombs. If my 11 year old memory serves me correctly there were about 20 passes for every run and because of that and the many scores the game lasted about 5 hours. During halftime there was the traditional battle of the bands between Alcorn St.'s band and Jackson St.'s "Sonic Boom of the South." During this entire time I was in awe of the experience and of course of McNair. It seemed like he could throw the ball out of Memorial Stadium if he really wanted to, but was content to just put up video game numbers beating Jackson St. For more on the game please, please read this article from Rocky Higginbotham of the Meridian Star.

After his career was over he went on to be drafted by the Houston Oilers with the 3rd pick in the 1995 draft. He went on to have considerable success in the NFL with such accomplishments as leading the Titans to the Super Bowl and also winning a co-MVP along with Peyton Manning in 2003. For all his success McNair was known as a ridiculously tough player in what is a ridiculously tough sport. It was not uncommon for him to not practice all week and then lead his team to a win on Sunday. His NFL numbers weren't as unbelievable as his college stats, but he always seemed to be in charge of a winning team.

I cheered him on in the pros and even bought a Titans #9 jerseys, but my most fond memory will be that fall day I spent with my father watching Alcorn-St.-Jackson St. I remember being more in the minority during that day than I would later feel in foreign countries half a world away. I remember the wonderful passes and almost more importantly the buzz created by Steve McNair. I remember the pure joy created by Steve McNair and the pride that all Mississippians felt for their national hero who had just recently graced the cover of Sports Illustrated with the title "Hand Him The Heisman."

I was proud to be a Mississippian, and my sentiment was shared by the 70 thousand people in the stands and the others watching on the TV. More than the Super Bowl, the records, the MVP, the legendary battles of injuries I am going to remember most about Steve McNair is the feeling of pride.


Eric said...

Very nice.

Check this out.

Kevin Malphurs said...

That is a great article. I have linked to it on the post. Thanks for sending. I will have to make sure that my Dad reads it.

Mary said...

This is a good post. :) Nice tribute.