Steve "Air" McNair was a unique player for Tennessee and the Ravens. While Ravens' fans got to see him in purple after he had slowed down significantly and at a time when he was clearly in the twilight of his career, he is still one of the best quarterbacks in the Ravens' short history. His history is an interesting one, including his untimely murder.
Born in Mississippi, McNair was a multiple-sport athlete in high school, playing football, basketball and baseball in addition to running track. Moving on to college, McNair spurned a full scholarship to the University of Florida because they were only offering it to be a running back and McNair knew that he could be a quarterback. Because of that decision, McNair made his way to I-AA Alcorn State. His final year saw McNair gain newly 6,000 yards from scrimmage through a combination of rushing and passing as well as 53 touchdowns, allowing the quarterback to hold more than a dozen records.
McNair was drafted in the first round, the third pick overall, of the 1995 NFL Draft by the Houston Oilers who would eventually become the Tennessee Titans. Many older Ravens' fans will remember the Titans being in the same division as Baltimore early in the Ravens' history and most will remember McNair's ability to scramble out of the pocket and throw darts. He was a Super Bowl quarterback, even though the Titans were famously feet short of the goal line, ultimately keeping the Titans from the victory. The following year, the Trent Dilfer led Ravens would walk through the Titans in the playoffs en route to their first Super Bowl victory.
McNair's departure from the Titans was an odd one mainly because they kept him from the practice facilities. It was due to season-ending injuries from the seasons before and the franchise looking to get out of his $23.6 million contract for that season. After a grievance was filed by the NFLPA and arbitration, it was determined that the Titans had violated it's contract and that McNair could seek a trade. This led to the door being opened for the Ravens to be interested. A 4-th round pick in the 2007 NFL Draft was what it took for the Ravens to get the rights to McNair so that he could replace incumbent and inconsistent Kyle Boller.
The 2006 season, it was clear that McNair had a chip on his shoulder as he led the Ravens to a 13-3 record and an AFC North Championship. Sadly for the Ravens and McNair, he was not all that great in the playoffs, leading to a loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
The following offseason was where the McNair that most know started to crumble. He was pulled over as a passenger in a car for suspicion of drunk driving. His brother-in-law was the one driving, but under Tennessee law, the passenger can be charged as well if they own the vehicle being driven. A retirement after the 2007 season and passed away on July 4th, 2009.
MaNair's death was due to multiple gunshot wounds from his mistress, who had killed herself after killing McNair. His mistress suspected that McNair was in another extramarital affair in addition to their own and had a worsening financial situation that led to the murder. After the news broke, Ravens' general manager Ozzie Newsome had this to say:
This is so, so sad. We immediately think of his family, his boys. They are all in our thoughts and prayers. What we admired most about Steve when we played against him was his competitive spirit, and we were lucky enough to have that with us for two years. He is one of the best players in the NFL over the last 20 years...
In 2012, McNair was named the 35th greatest quarterback of the post-merger era according to Football Nation. We as fans were lucky to get to experience McNair both as a foe and as a Raven. We got to experience the thrills of his playmaking ability from both angles, the sighs of defeat and the cheers of victory. Sadly for McNair and his family, his fame led him down a path that ended with his murder. But we should all cherish the positive memories of Steve "Air" McNair.