Anyone remember Air McNair, the passing phenom from Alcorn St. who set so many of their passing records?
"I can't understand it sometimes. People have to realize -- they have all these high expectations. People expect '"Air" McNair, he's gonna air the ball out,'" said Steve McNair before a playoff game in January of 2000. "Then all of a sudden you get to an offense where they like to run the ball. And you throw one interception and it's like, 'Awww, he sucks.'"
The Oilers (before they became the Tennessee Titans) drafted McNair in the first round of 1995, the year the Pittsburgh Steelers took Kordell Stewart as their QB of the future. McNair was picked for his passing skills, not his running ability.
"Where I come from, we've always been explosive," explained McNair. "We were throwing the ball regardless of what defenses came up with. That's what I want to get to here, to where we can strike at any time on any portion of the field."
While Stewart struggled running Cowher's ball control offense, McNair eventually emerged. He and Eddie George led the Titans to the Super Bowl where they came up just one foot short of beating the St. Louis Rams.
Soon, fans forgot about the Air McNair label and he was stereotyped as a running QB, in the same mold as Stewart. Except that he was also renown for his record for consecutive visits to the red zone without throwing an interception. He was Kordell without all the implosions.
While Stewart was reining in his game in 2001, McNair was forced to reprise his Alcorn St. identity. George was banged up for most of the season, clearly not himself. The defense was a sieve, particularly in the secondary. The Titans were often behind and Air McNair returned.
That season ended with McNair as the second highest rated QB in the AFC (90.2) and the third best QB in the entire NFL in terms of yards per attempt (7.77). All this without much of a running game to speak of.
Not only can McNair sling the ball downfield as well as Tommy Maddox, he can avoid the rush with his mobility. The Titans are second in the NFL with only 21 sacks given up. The Steelers have surrendered 34 and stand at 13th.
If the upcoming playoff game does boil down to a shootout, you can bet that McNair can exploit the Steelers beleaguered secondary. Pittsburgh's rush will have to respect McNair's speed and size. The Titans have no such worry attacking Maddox.
Call him Touchdown Tommy if you want, but don't forget about Air McNair.