Steve McNair was born in a small house in Mount Olive, Mississippi, and attended Mount Olive High School as a freshman in the fall of 1987, where he played football, baseball, and basketball in addition to running track. As a junior, McNair led Mount Olive to the state championship. McNair also played free safety in high school, and in 1990 alone, he intercepted fifteen passes, raising his career total to 30, which tied the mark established by Terrell Buckley at Pascagoula High School. An All-State selection, McNair was named an All-American by Super Prep magazine. The Seattle Mariners drafted him in the 35th round of the 1991 MLB amateur draft.
McNair was initially offered a full scholarship to the University of Florida to play running back, but wanting to play quarterback, McNair chose division I-AA Alcorn State. McNair played college football for Alcorn State University, a historically black university which competes in the NCAA’s Division I-AA (now known as the Football Championship Subdivision) Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC). In 1992, McNair threw for 3,541 yards and 29 touchdowns, and ran in for 10 more scores. The Braves fashioned a record of 7–4, including a last-second victory in their rematch with Grambling. In that contest, McNair returned from an injury and helped Alcorn State, trailing late in the final period, move deep into Tigers’ territory. Then, despite a leg injury, he tucked the ball under his arm and dove into the end zone for the winning touchdown. The victory over Grambling helped the Braves qualify for the I-AA playoffs where they faced off against then-Northeast Louisiana, falling 78-27 to the Indians on Nov. 21, 1992. McNair helped Alcorn State to another good year in 1993, as the Braves upped their record to 8–3 while McNair threw for more than 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns. He was also named First-Team All-SWAC for the third year in a row.
In his senior season, McNair gained nearly 6,000 yards rushing and passing, along with 53 touchdowns. In the process, he surpassed more than a dozen records and was named an All-American. In addition, McNair won the Walter Payton Award as the top I-AA player and finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting behind Rashaan Salaam and Ki-Jana Carter. McNair set career records for the Football Championship Series with 14,496 passing yards, as well as the division record for total offensive yards with 16,283 career yards. The records still stand. He was a member of the fraternity Omega Psi Phi, highlighting his allegiance by tattooing “Omega Man” on his arm.
With the third overall pick in the 1995 NFL Draft, the Houston Oilers and new head coach Jeff Fisher selected McNair, making him at the time the highest drafted African-American quarterback in NFL history and signing him to a seven-year contract. McNair did not see his first action until the last two series of the fourth quarter in a November game versus the Cleveland Browns. Late in the season, he also appeared briefly against the Detroit Lions and New York Jets. Meanwhile, starting quarterback Chris Chandler finished as the AFC’s fourth-best passer. In 1996, McNair remained a backup to Chandler until starting a game in December against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
McNair’s first season as the Oilers’ starter in 1997 (the team’s first year in Tennessee) resulted in an 8–8 record for the team, which played its home games at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tennessee. McNair’s 2,665 passing yards were the most for the Oilers since Warren Moon in 1993, and his 13 interceptions were the fewest for a single season in franchise history. He also led the team in rushing touchdowns with eight and ranked second behind running back Eddie George with 674 yards on the ground, the third-highest total for a quarterback in NFL history.
In 1998, McNair set career passing highs with 492 attempts, 289 completions, 3,228 yards and 15 touchdowns for the Oilers, now competing in Nashville. He also cut his interceptions to ten, helping his quarterback rating climb to 80.1.
The team officially changed its name from Oilers to Titans for the 1999 season as they debuted a new stadium, Adelphia Coliseum. Early in the 1999 season, McNair was diagnosed with an inflamed disk following Tennessee’s 36–35 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, and needed surgery. In his stead entered Neil O’Donnell, a veteran who had guided the Pittsburgh Steelers to the Super Bowl four years earlier. Over the next five games, O’Donnell led the Titans to a 4–1 record. McNair returned against the St. Louis Rams, and with McNair starting, Tennessee won seven of its last nine games, good for a record of 13–3 and second place in the AFC Central.
Tennessee opened the playoffs at home against the Buffalo Bills in a Wild Card game, winning on the “Music City Miracle” and eventually advancing to Super Bowl XXXIV in a re-match with the Rams. On the final play of the game, a McNair pass to Kevin Dyson was complete, but Dyson was unable to break the plane of the goal line, giving the Rams the win. McNair signed a new six-year contract after the 1999 season worth $47 million.
Following a 13–3 season in 2000 which ended in a playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens, the 28-year-old McNair put together his most productive year as a pro in 2001. In 2001, McNair registered career passing highs in yards (3,350), completions (264), touchdowns (21) and quarterback rating (90.2). He was also the team’s most effective rusher, tying George for the club lead with five scores. Named to the Pro Bowl for the first time, McNair sat out the game due to a shoulder injury.
In 2002, Tennessee finished the regular season 11-5 and reached the playoffs. In the divisional playoff contest against the Pittsburgh Steelers, McNair threw for a career postseason high 338 yards and two touchdowns, with two interceptions, while rushing for 29 yards and another score on the ground. The game had a controversial finish when, after missing a game winning field goal at the end of regulation time and a second failed kick in overtime was negated because of a controversial running-into-the-kicker penalty on Pittsburgh’s Dewayne Washington, kicker Joe Nedney won the game from 26 yards out 2:15 into overtime. Steelers coach Bill Cowher said that he called a timeout before the winning kick took place. McNair and the Titans reached the AFC Championship game but were unable to reach the Super Bowl, losing to the Oakland Raiders 41-24.
Between the 2002 and 2003 seasons, McNair was arrested for DUI and illegal gun possession (in May 2003). His blood alcohol was above 0.10, and a 9-mm handgun had been sitting in the front of the car. All charges related to the incident were later dropped.
In December of the 2003 season, an injured calf and ankle kept McNair on the sidelines for two games, though he still finished with the best numbers of his career, including 3,215 passing yards, 24 touchdown passes, just seven interceptions and a quarterback rating of 100.4. The Titans ended at 12–4, the same record as the Colts, but Indianapolis took the AFC South division championship by virtue of its two victories over Tennessee. McNair and Colts quarterback Peyton Manning were named co-NFL MVPs following the 2003 season, which ended the Titans’ season in a playoff loss to the New England Patriots. McNair finished the 2003 season as the league leader in passer rating and became the youngest player in NFL history to pass for 20,000 yards and run for 3,000 yards.
McNair missed the 2004 season’s fourth game with a bruised sternum, an injury suffered the previous week against Jacksonville, and played in only five more games that season. In 2005 he played in 14 games because of a back injury.
This series of season-ending injuries prompted the Titans to make the business decision of locking McNair out of team headquarters in the 2006 offseason. The team wouldn’t let him rehab in its building because it feared an injury would force the franchise to pay him $23.46 million (his contract had been restructured so often that his salary cap reached a hard-to-manage amount). The Players Association’s filed a grievance on his behalf, for which an arbitrator ruled that the team violated its contract, opening the possibility for a trade.
Following the 2005 season, on April 30, 2006, the Titans allowed McNair and his agent, James “Bus” Cook, to speak with the Ravens to try to work out a deal. On May 1, 2006, the Baltimore Sun reported that the Baltimore Ravens might wait for McNair to be released by the Titans during free agency. Speculation was that the Titans might hold onto McNair until the week before training camp in late July if the Ravens didn’t come up with a satisfactory trade offer for McNair according to a league source. However, on June 7, 2006, the two teams worked out a deal to send McNair to the Ravens for a 4th-round pick in the 2007 NFL Draft. On June 8, McNair flew to Baltimore, passed a physical, and was announced as the newest member of the Ravens.
The 2006 season saw McNair start each game for the Ravens, missing only portions of two games. In the week 14 game against the Kansas City Chiefs, McNair threw the longest touchdown pass in the Ravens’ history, when he threw an 89-yard touchdown pass to receiver Mark Clayton, McNair helped Baltimore to a 13–3 record and an AFC North Championship. McNair started at quarterback in his first playoff game as a Raven when his team faced the Colts on January 13, 2007. McNair was 18 of 29 for 173 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions, as the Ravens lost 15–6.
On May 9, 2007 McNair was a passenger in a car that was pulled over for suspicion of drunk driving. Both the driver of the vehicle, his brother-in-law, and McNair were arrested for driving under the influence. Under Tennessee law, one can still be arrested for DUI even if a passenger in one’s own car and the driver is believed to be under the influence. McNair owned the pick-up truck involved and was charged with DUI by consent. The charges were dropped on July 10, 2007.
In 2007, McNair did not play in Week 2 against the Jets which the Ravens won 20–13. He also did not play the full game in Week 3, however, the game was won by the Ravens, 26–23. McNair missed nine more games during the rest of the season, including getting pulled after taking many hits from Steelers’ linebacker James Harrison in Week 9, and fumbling the ball twice. McNair only started six games for the Ravens in 2007. After thirteen seasons in the NFL, McNair announced his retirement in April 2008. In July 2012, McNair was named the thirty-fifth greatest quarterback of the NFL’s post-merger era, according to Football Nation. As of October 2012, he is the only deceased quarterback on the list.
McNair was married to Mechelle McNair from June 21, 1997 until his death. He split his time between a farm in Mississippi and Nashville, Tennessee. McNair had two sons by Mechelle: Tyler and Trenton; and two sons – Steve LaTreal McNair and Steven O’Brian Koran McNair; – by two other women. McNair earned the nickname “Air McNair” in High School. He opened his own restaurant in Nashville, which he named Gridiron9. In addition to that, Steve McNair was the mentor to former Titans’ quarterback Vince Young, who was greatly affected by the death of his teacher. Mcnair’s cousin Demario Davis currently plays for the New York Jets.
On July 4, 2009, McNair was found dead of multiple gunshot wounds, along with the body of a young woman named Sahel “Jenni” Kazemi, in a condominium rented by McNair, at 105 Lea Avenue in downtown Nashville. McNair had been shot twice in the body and twice in the head, with only one of the shots coming from closer than three feet. Kazemi had a single gunshot wound to the head, which was proved to have been fired from a gun that was held to her temple. McNair was believed to have been asleep on the couch when the shooting occurred. The bodies were discovered by McNair’s friends Wayne Neely and Robert Gaddy, who called 911. The Nashville police declared McNair’s death a murder-suicide, with Kazemi as the perpetrator and McNair as the victim. The 9-mm gun used was found under Kazemi’s body and later tests revealed “trace evidence of (gunpowder) residue on her left hand.” Kazemi had a worsening financial situation and also suspected that McNair was in another extramarital relationship.
McNair, who was married at the time, had been dating the 20-year-old Kazemi in the months prior to their deaths. Two days before their deaths, Kazemi was pulled over in a black 2007 Cadillac Escalade in Nashville with McNair in the passenger seat and Vent Gordon, a chef at a restaurant McNair owned, in the back seat. The vehicle was registered in the names of both McNair and Kazemi. She was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol. McNair was not arrested, instead leaving in a taxi with Gordon, despite Kazemi repeatedly asking the arresting officer to tell McNair to come to the police car to talk to her. However, McNair later bailed Kazemi out of jail. Police later stated that after release from jail, Kazemi purchased the gun from a convicted murderer she met while looking for a buyer for her Kia.
|“||We are saddened and shocked to hear the news of Steve McNair’s passing today. He was one of the finest players to play for our organization and one of the most beloved players by our fans. He played with unquestioned heart and leadership and led us to places that we had never reached, including our only Super Bowl. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family as they deal with his untimely passing.||”|
|“||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…||”|
The Titans held a two-day memorial at LP Field on July 8 and 9, 2009, where fans could pay their last respects to McNair. Highlights from his career were played throughout each day and fans were able to sign books that were later given to the McNair family.
During the 2009 NFL season, every member of the Titans wore a commemorative “9” sticker placed on the back of each helmet to honor McNair. Funeral services were held for McNair at the Reed Coliseum on the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi on July 11 at 11:00 AM (CST) and he is buried at Griffith Cemetery in Prentiss, Mississippi. On October 15, 2010 it was reported that McNair’s widow went to a Nashville judge and asked that at least a portion of the assets be unfrozen so that his children could have some sort of monetary source. The judge agreed and each of the four children received $500,000.
- February, 14, 1973
- Mount Olive, Mississippi
- July, 04, 2009
- Nashville, Tennessee
Cause of Death
- Griffith Cemetery
- Prentiss, Mississippi