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The Legacy of Air McNair

Since the death of Steve McNair, I’ve had a number of conversations with people about his impact, his legacy, as well as the circumstances regarding his untimely demise. I have no desire to get into his personal business, whatsoever. Instead, this will be about someone who will be remembered as a legend for the Tennessee Titans football team, a legend on the HBCU circuit, as well as a great man of the community.

My first memory of Steve McNair was of him doing work for Alcorn State, back in the day. The fact that he was at a Black college wasn’t a factor at the time. I was 12 years old, and hadn’t developed the sense to know the difference between Colorado, Penn State, and Alcorn State. What I do remember most was seeing a dude running and throwing, and people saying the word “Heisman” when talking about him. Once I got older, I realized how big an impact Steve McNair had on the college scene, for small-school impact players, and for SWAC football. It took two running backs, from big-time Division I programs, with monster seasons, to beat him out for the Heisman. We can take a look at how players from smaller programs and smaller conferences are discriminated against every year, when it comes to the Heisman. Here’s a harsh fact: since 1994, the Heisman winners have all come from the Big Ten, Big Twelve, Pac-10, and the SEC. In my opinion, that’s not an accident. The last person to win the award, that wasn’t from one of those conferences, was Ty Detmer at BYU. I say all that to let people know what McNair accomplished at Alcorn State should not, and cannot, be taken for granted. If someone was to say we may never see another quarterback like Steve McNair come out of the HBCU circuit, I’m inclined to believe them. It’s not that they don’t exist, because I see plenty of them every Friday night during high school football season, and that’s just in Texas alone. It’s simply the fact they have the opportunity to go to bigger schools now, and the opportunity to play quarterback for those teams.

After college, he was drafted by the Oilers, and once they moved to Tennessee, made his mark as one of the best quarterbacks in the league. He was definitely one of the toughest quarterbacks I have ever seen. On top of that, he repped his fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, to the fullest. If you’re a member of any of the Divine Nine family, you’ll understand my excitement. He’d score a TD, throw up the hooks, and even I, as a brother of Alpha Phi Alpha, would get excited right along with him. My boys and I would joke that Air McNair wouldn’t be able to do much of anything after football, because he took such a pounding. There were times he would just peel himself off the ground, get back in the huddle, and keep driving down a defense’s throat. No matter how hard he got it, he’d just keep on coming.

It was the same even when he went to Baltimore for his last two seasons. People talk about how good of a man he was, and how he always treated people with dignity and respect. I saw enough of him over the years to know he was a true teammate, and was never a “look-at-me” player, even if he had the credentials to do so. That’s how I choose to remember Steve McNair over anything…as someone who made his mark, someone whose feats and impact have not been duplicated, and as a stand-up guy.

-K. Masenda


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