Steve McNair hangs up his cleats

OWINGS MILLS -- Baltimore Ravens quarterback Steve McNair is retiring after 13 seasons. Here are a few comments on his decision:

STEVE MCNAIR RETIREMENT PRESS CONFERENCE

General Manager Ozzie Newsome, Head Coach John Harbaugh, QB Steve McNair, WR Derrick Mason & CB Samari Rolle

Opening statement (Ozzie Newsome): "One thing I'm learning about this business [is that] every day you wake up something can surprise you. I sit before you with mixed emotions at this point. One of the joys of my job is to watch other players play for other teams, watch how they compete, watch how they make plays and watch how their teammates respect them. You get the opportunity to talk to people in the organization that they play for and the good things that they say about them. And, then you get lucky enough to have one of those competitors come and be on your team and come in and basically lift up an organization, lift up a city and carry you to the most wins in the history of your franchise, and that's what I've experienced over the last couple of years with Steve McNair. [He is] a guy, you know, we'd dread playing when we were playing the Tennessee Titans because knowing that at some point he could pull it down and get that crucial third down, or he could make that accurate throw to whoever his receivers were to keep a drive going. Then to have him come [to Baltimore] and be involved in games when you could be as much as two touchdowns down and still know you've got a chance to win – that's the appreciation I have for Steve McNair.

But, I gained a deeper and greater appreciation for him yesterday when he walked into my office, looked me in the eye and said to me, ‘Mentally, I think I can do it for three more years, but my body is telling me every day that I can't do it.' There're not very many guys who play our sport [who] get the opportunity to walk away on their own accord and that can make that decision of, ‘You know what? I can't play this game as well as I want to play, so I'm going to walk away.' So, when he came to me yesterday early in the morning we talked about it, we talked about all the work. This guy has really done a lot of work since January up until yesterday – he even worked out yesterday – to find out whether his body could still do it. And, we talked about the hard work, how much he had put in. But even through that and having him take 24 more hours to think about it, he came in with even more resolve that it's time for me to step away. And, I can appreciate that."

Opening statement (John Harbaugh): "I have to say, honestly, that I'm disappointed. It was going to be an opportunity to be involved with one of the greatest warriors in the history of the game. We've had a number of conversations and you get to know a guy, but it hits you a little bit like a ton of bricks. I can say this: We talked about it with our team [and] Steve talked to the guys and our team stood up and gave him a standing ovation. I thought the outpouring of emotion was moving. You have to be in there and be a part of that to understand it and to feel it, and that's because there's love for one another in that room. The impressive thing to me is that this is a family-first decision and this is a team-first decision. A lot of guys don't make choices for those reasons, and that's something that speaks to the man, and that's what I'm most impressed with."

Opening statement (Steve McNair): "Thank you, coach. It's been a long road – 13 years – from Houston to Memphis to Nashville and now in Baltimore. It's been a long road, but I've been fortunate. I've been fortunate to surround myself with great people, great coaches, great teammates, great family. And when you have that support you can almost overcome everything in life. Everywhere I go it's [been] like a family.

"My career speaks for itself. I enjoyed it, but I can look back on it and reflect back on it and I wouldn't change a thing. The way I played the game, the way I approached the game, the love I have for the game – I wouldn't change that. I played the game with a lot of passion, I played the game with a lot of heart, and it showed over the course of my 13 years. Over 13 years I had a lot of injuries because I played the game physical, because I gave it 110% every game. Regardless if we were up by 30 or if we were down by 30, there was always that opportunity that I felt like me and my teammates and the coaching staff and the organization can make things happen. I always believed, regardless of what situation we were in.

"Over the course of my career it has been up and down. I learned from the good and I learned from the bad. But, coming out making this decision – it was a very difficult decision, it was hard. Especially when you are walking away from the game and in your mind you feel like you can play, you still can compete. But when you are fighting that battle from your mind to your body, if those two are not on the same accord, it's not going to work in the National Football League. Your mind and your body have got to be on the same page. My mind was there, mentally I could go out and play, but physically I just couldn't do it any more, not to the capacity that I need to help my teammates win a football game. That's one reason.

"The decision was a hard decision but I think it's a good decision because I'm always a team player first. That goes a long way; it goes from when I first started playing pee wee football. I look at what I can do for my teammates and how can I improve the next guy to be the best that he can be.

"I didn't do this by myself. This journey was with a lot of people. I'd like to thank Tennessee, Bud Adams, coach [Jeff] Fischer, for giving me the opportunity to start my career in 1995. I played with some great guys. I played with the Bruce Matthews, the Frank Wychecks, the Derrick Masons, the Samari Rolles – all those guys, and I'd like to thank those guys for giving me my start. For Baltimore, to make it my lost stop, what a great ride. What a great ride. It was a great ride here for these two short years. You're talking about family. You're talking about respecting each other. The love in this building is unbelievable. I'd like to thank Ozzie for giving me an opportunity to come here, and Steve Bisciotti for giving me the opportunity to play with some guys that I'd been fighting against for a long time – Ray Lewis, Chris McAlister, Ed Reed, and those type guys that made me better, because you [knew that] every given Sunday those guys were going to go out and give you their all. They were going to compete every snap.

"For me to be here is a blessing. I've been fortunate. I've been fortunate to be a part of this organization, to finish my long legacy here. I'd like to thank the fans in Tennessee, also the fans here in Baltimore. It's been a great ride; it's been a blessing for me to be a part of here. It's a sad day for me, a very emotional day for me. I'm trying to do the best I can to hold it in, but at the same time I'm opening up a lot more doors for the future I've got ahead. I can become now the father I need to be to my kids. I can see them grow up, I can do the things I want to do personally in life that I couldn't do during the football season. Family is very important to me and now I can relate to how well my family understood when I was playing the game for 13 years. Sometimes you take things for granted and you just live and just live.

But, now that [I] look back on how many times I left home and the kids were asleep – and then you come home and the kids are still asleep – its' a blessing to now that I am fortunate to walk away from this game on my own two feet and to realize that family is very important. I've been away from my family [in Tennessee] for two years. Yeah, it hurt, but they knew I had a job to do. But, now is the time for me to regain the comfort I had with my family before I started in the National Football League. Thank you and God bless you."

On being confident and happy about his decision (McNair): "It's very accurate. When I came to see Ozzie, I told him, ‘I'm going to be straight up with you.' I looked him in the eyes, ‘I'm going to be straight up with you. I'm not going to pull your leg.' I said, ‘Mentally, I can play two or three more years, but I've forced myself to come and work out everyday and do the things that I tried to do to prepare myself to physically get back, and I just couldn't get it back. And, I'm not going to put my team in harm's way, nor myself, because I don't have the physical tools anymore to play this game at a high level.' That's why I'm very comfortable that I'm making the right decision. It's a hard decision, but I think we both, me as an individual and this organization, feel like we've got to move on."

On when he made his decision (McNair): "Well, it's been going on. The thing about it is, that's what I was trying to do – see how my body was going to react to my mind and to see if I could go out and compete for 16 games. That's why I was working so hard. I was trying to get back to that status that I used be. But my mind was telling me ‘yes' but my body was like ‘no.' And I came up with it two or three days ago, but it was still lingering since December, when I had the [shoulder] surgery. It was really, you know, the first game of the [2007] season, in Cincinnati, [when I] get hurt, come back, then I miss two or three games with my back. All the things going through my mind, if I can't compete like I used to, with a healthy mind and body, I was not going to put this team in jeopardy."

On if this affects the Ravens' draft (Newsome): "No, this has no impact on our plans. We talked about a year ago to start going about looking at getting someone to be a quarterback in this franchise. We talked about that in 2007 and we talked about that in 2008. So, that does not change our plans at all. What it does do, it allows Kyle [Boller] and Troy [Smith] to get as many reps as they can get and to become as good a football player as they can be. But this will not impact our decision in the draft, not one iota. It hasn't changed not one thought in my mind as to how we're going to prepare. I had the opportunity to speak to my staff and echoed that to them and they felt the same way."

On if the Ravens considered withholding the retirement announcement until after the draft (Newsome): "No, because I don't think it's going to impact [the draft]. The draft is the draft. I don't think Steve's retiring today is going to impact anything that the Jets, the Chiefs, the Patriots, the Dolphins, the Rams do. I don't think it's going to impact them at all. It's not going to impact them, so it's not going to impact us."

On what he saw in his few months with coach Harbaugh and Cam Cameron (McNair): "He has the kind of offense I like – distributing the ball to different guys, wide open, no-huddle offense, and that's what I was accustomed to. I was looking forward to it. I got an opportunity to meet John, I got a chance to talk with him a couple of times. [I enjoyed] his ideal of what he was trying to bring to the Ravens, his goal of being team-first and everything else comes second."

On who the Ravens' starting QB will now be (Harbaugh): "We've talked about that many times – it's competitive. We lost our incumbent and now it's wide open."

On if he plans to step up efforts to bring in a veteran QB (Newsome): "I can guarantee you now, after this press conference by the time I get up to my office, I'll have 15 calls of guys calling me trying to get into this competition. Right now, we're focusing on the draft. That's where our attention is. We're focusing on the draft, we'll see what the draft gives us and then after that Cam, Eric [DeCosta], George [Kokinis], Vince [Newsome], Hue Jackson, John and I will evaluate what our situation is. But right now we're focusing on the draft. And [to] all those people who are going to be calling me, be patient, I'll get back to you probably in about two weeks."

On whether coach Harbaugh's new regime played part in his decision (McNair): "No, because I was here. I was here working out. I didn't complain, not even once. Every coach has their own philosophy of how they want to run a ball club. I've been in six different offenses in my 13-year career, so I knew how to make a change. That was not by far the decision on why I retired."

On what he's most proud of in his career (McNair): "It's not about what I'm most proud of. It's about surviving for 13 years. It's not about numbers for me. It's not about making it to the Super Bowl. It's about having great teammates and great coaches around you that made me enjoy the game. That's memorable to me."

On what it was like addressing teammates this morning (McNair): "It was harder with my teammates than it is here right now because those are the guys who were my family. We worked together. We played hard together. We made the sacrifices to be here, to play this game. And to let them know that I was no longer going to be with the team, it was very difficult, very emotional."

On whether Brett Favre's retirement affected his decision and if he's talked to Favre (McNair): "No, I haven't talked to him at all. The only thing that weighed on my decision was that my mind and my body weren't on the same page. It wasn't anything that Brett said. It wasn't anything that happened in the course of three or four days. It was something that I've been considering for myself since [last] December, and I'm not going to sit here and tell you that something else ignited it, but me. That's all I can say. My body wasn't reacting to what my mind was trying to do.

On what he'll think if he feels good in July (McNair): "Well, the thing about it is it can feel great, but can I compete at a high level to help this ball club win? That's the difference."

WR Derrick Mason

Opening statement: "It's shocking to me. I can go back to 1997 when I got drafted by the Houston Oilers, and they were making their transition from Houston to Tennessee. Being a young guy, going out there in that old building they had in Houston, going out there those first couple days with the rookies, we were out there sweating, not knowing what to expect. Then, the veterans come in. You see a guy come out with a No. 9 jersey and you're in awe because this is a guy you've seen play in college and lit up the college world. What he was able to do physically and with winning football games at Alcorn State, I remember those days of watching him play. After first seeing him, you're in awe. Then, after days go on and you make that transition from Houston to Tennessee, and then you get a couple years under your belt, you start to figure out, ‘Hey, this guy is just a regular guy like me.'

He is an approachable guy, a good guy, a team-oriented guy. You begin to understand him for who he truly is. He is a good guy. I consider him a true friend. Not many people can say that in this league, that you consider a guy a true friend. I consider Steve a true friend. I consider his family a part of our family. His wife, Mechelle and his children… Over the years you get an opportunity to meet them, sit down with them, have dinner with them and go to their houses on occasion. You get to see their family atmosphere. Theirs was a wonderful atmosphere."

On today's mood in practice: "It's business as usual. You have to go out there and put that behind you, especially going through a new offense. It was fast and it was frustrating and confusing at times, so that kind of took your mind off Steve a bit. But, once you step off that practice field, reality hits: No. 9 is not going to be in the huddle. I thought I was going to get at least one more year, because I know Steve has a big chip on his shoulder. And, I know he still has [the desire to play]."

On how QB Kyle Boller is in the huddle: "It's not like Kyle is coming in and he's never been in the huddle before. When I first got here [in 2005], he was the starting quarterback and I think he commanded the huddle very well. When he came in last year and had to play, he commanded the huddle very well. I don't see there being a difference now than when Steve couldn't play and [Boller] had to come in. But, it's about Steve right now."

Final statement: "But before I go, I want to tell Steve that I love him, I appreciate him and I enjoyed the 11 years I played with him out of the 12 I've been able to play. I really enjoyed it, especially his friendship. I enjoyed everything about it. You are a true competitor. And, I know you will continue to be a competitor at whatever it is you do, whether it's in Mississippi on the farm fishing, whatever it may be with your brothers, you're going to compete. I really enjoy that about you. Best of luck to you and your family. I love you and I love your family. Best wishes."

CB Samari Rolle

Opening statement: "I talked to Steve this morning in the equipment room, and his eyes were welled up. I said, ‘What were you doing last night?' And he said, ‘Samari, I'm R-ing it.' I'm like, ‘R-ing it?' And he said, ‘I'm retiring.' It felt like the first time you get cut from the team. I said, ‘Are you serious?' He told me, ‘My body can't take it anymore.'

"The first thing I thought about was in Tennessee, the year Steve won MVP [2003], and Steve never practiced during the week, but then he went out there and won MVP. Steve's a great player. Out of all the players he mentioned, he's the best player I've ever played with, any level. Sure-fire Hall of Famer. It hurts, because Steve was like a mentor to me. Everybody looked up to him in Tennessee. Even when he came here, everyone was worried about the offense and how we're going to do this, how we're going to do that.

He comes in, and we go 13-3, and everything was great. The most proud thing is that he's retiring on his own terms. He's leaving the game how he wants to do it. A lot of guys try to stick around and try to hold on when they don't have it anymore. Personally, Steve's the best player I've ever played with, like I told him this morning. He took me to a Super Bowl we almost won – we came up an inch short – and I always remember that last drive, throwing [former Rams DE Kevin Carter] off of you, that not bothering you. You're a great player, a great man, a great family man. You can ask anybody on this team and anybody from Tennessee what he meant, and he was the team. Toughness, competitor, what else can you say?"

On the atmosphere in the team meeting this morning: "He got a standing ovation, so that tells you what he meant to this team. He's only been here two years. He told me Derrick was the only person he told other than me this morning, and the look on his eyes, it was worse than the coaches. So it's tough."


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