Remembering Steve McNair

The tragic, sudden death of former Baltimore Ravens quarterback Steve McNair from multiple gunshot wounds has immediately triggered so much sadness, so much palpable emotion. The senseless killing spawns anger and confusion after the death of McNair and his 20-year-old girlfriend, Sahel "Jenny" Kazemi.

It has been ruled a murder-suicide. The news of McNair's passing spread like a wildfire around the league. Bad news almost always travels fast.

The development also sparks memories about McNair's warm personality and how the former NFL Co-Most Valuable Player conducted himself on the football field.

There was the trademark swagger as the former Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens starter sauntered to the line of scrimmage to size up the defense.

There was his true grit, a toughness that defined him and set him apart in a league filled with hard-nosed men.

McNair was an absolute warrior who used his body as a human battering ram to pick up key yards, enduring brutal punishment while hanging in the pocket for that extra second to deliver a spiral and hit a receiver in stride.

And, of course, there was McNair's easy smile and pleasant, gracious manner.

"I feel blessed that I knew him," former Ravens tight end Daniel Wilcox said in a telephone interview Saturday night. "He gave us so much hope. Man, I'm going to miss him. I can still hear his voice. I can still see the smile on his face. He was a quiet leader, a special, humble guy. Bad things really do happen to good people sometimes.

"His charisma, his spirit, his love for the guys always shined through. He invited us into his home and he cooked for us and accepted us like family. It shows you how short and precious life is. Steve lived his life like every day was going to be his last. I'm going to miss him big-time, and my heart goes out to his family." Personal note: I covered McNair when he was with the Titans and during his two-year stint with the Ravens.

I watched him almost rally the Titans to a dramatic comeback that fell a yard short in a Super Bowl loss to the St. Louis Rams.

He was one of the top competitors that I've ever watched in this league.

McNair dragged himself off the turf after so many eye-cringing tackles, including the time former Kansas City Chiefs and Ravens linebacker Gary Stills nearly broke McNair's sternum with a clean open-field shot.

I always found McNair to be a nice guy off the field with a good sense of humor. He was very gracious with his time with reporters and accountable whenever he had a bad game.

He wasn't one to hog the credit when his team won, and he wasn't one to make excuses when they lost.

That included his shaky performance in the Ravens' AFC divisional playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts, including a crucial interception near the end zone.

Plus, McNair was a classy person who did a ton of charity work and was generous to a fault.

At heart, the NFL star remained the enthusiastic kid who grew up on a Missisippi farm where he developed his legendary work ethic.

My deepest condolences go out to McNair's family, friends and former teammates.

Veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason was one of McNair's favorite targets during his stints with the Titans and the Ravens.

And the news of McNair's passing is hitting him very hard.

"Steve was such a happy person," Mason said in a statement released a few minutes ago by the Ravens. "I even called him 'Smile.' He was always smiling and was always willing to lend a hand to anyone who needed it. I've known him for 13 years, and he was the most selfless, happiest and friendliest person I have known. His family and my family are close, and it is a blow to us all. It is a devastating day.

"Steve will always have a place in my heart. My family and I are hurting for his family. Our thoughts and prayers are with them. On the field, there isn't a player that was as tough as him, especially at the quarterback position. What I have seen him play through on the field, and what he dealt with during the week to get ready for a game, I have never known a better teammate."

Like Mason, cornerback Samari Rolle was McNair's teammate and close friend in both NFL cities.

And, like Mason, Rolle's heart is hurting today at the loss of McNair.

"Steve was the ultimate man, first of all," Rolle said in a statement. "I played with Steve every year of my career, except for two, and got to know his family during that time. He was such a good family man. My prayers are with them at this tough time. I still can't even believe it. To lose such a good friend and a good man so soon doesn't make sense.

"If you were going to draw a football player, the physical part, the mental part, everything about being a professional, he is your guy. I can't even wrap my arms around it. It is a sad, sad day. The world lost a great man today."

For Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, McNair was the consummate competitor during the epic rivalry between Baltimore and Tennessee back in the old AFC Central days.

When Newsome got a chance to acquire McNair toward the end of his career through a trade when the Titans didn't want McNair around anymore, he pounced on the opportunity.

"This is so, so sad," Newsome said in a statement. "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."

The Ravens said that they were trying to obtain a statement from middle linebacker Ray Lewis, noting that he was having a difficult time dealing with the loss of his friend.

At a time like this, words are hard to come by. It's incredibly difficult to make sense out of a senseless situation. It's yet another case of a good man dying far too young.


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