For some former teammates who came to Mount Zion Baptist Church on Thursday to celebrate Steve McNair’s life, trying to make some sense of the shock and disbelief that the quarterback they knew and loved was gone remained the order of the day.
“It shouldn’t end this way for anyone. I guess in every situation, you should take something from it, but I’m still trying to figure this one out and take the positive,” defensive end Jevon Kearse said. “They say there’s a message behind everything, and I’m going to try to figure this one out, but it may take years.”
Added tight end Frank Wycheck, who served as one of the pallbearers, “Just like anyone else, I’m still in shock. I couldn’t wrap my arms around it. I just didn’t think it would happen to a guy like that. It’s just very, very hurtful. It’s very tragic.”
Some wondered aloud if they could have done anything to perhaps prevented McNair from heading down the path that led to the tragedy.
Former teammate Chris Sanders, a devout Christian, said he regretted not trying to reach out more to McNair.
“I’m kind of disappointed in myself, and I never really talked to him like I should’ve,” Sanders said. “We focus on Xs and Os and I’ve got to run a slant or run a post, and I never got the chance to speak with him about his life. I’m kind of disappointed in myself, because maybe if I’d just taken the time to say, ‘Hey, how are you doing or what’s going on,’ maybe we wouldn’t have this situation.”
For some, memories of McNair were simply time spent with him on the field and in the locker room or even airplane rides. Former Titans safety Lance Schulters recalled the legendary card games played on plane rides back from road trips.
“I thought we’d grow old together. I thought we’d talk about playing cards when we were in our fifties. This is shocking,” he said. “Seeing Samari [Rolle], Robaire [Smith] and Eddie, that was all our seats at the table. Steve always won the big hands, always won the big pots.”
Somehow that’s not surprising for anyone who had seen McNair play and saw the determination and competitiveness with which he approached football.
Titans coach Jeff Fisher, speaking about McNair’s off-the-bench heroics in Pittsburgh after a sternum injury, told of that scenario during his eulogy of his quarterback.
When backup Neil O’Donnell went out with an injury late in the game, a banged up McNair came off the bench and guided a game-winning drive, capped by a TD pass to then-rookie Erron Kinney.
“He turned and looked at me and winked,” Fisher said. “He grabbed a ball, threw it twice and ran on the field. Four plays later, he throws a touchdown pass to Erron Kinney and we win by three points.”
Fisher said he approached McNair and started to talk to him, when the quarterback interrupted him and pointed toward the sky.
It was that sort of toughness and competitiveness that will last most in the minds of his teammates and fans.
“I will remember all the positive things he did,” Kearse said. “During , for the last 10 weeks of the season, he didn’t practice, like not even once. Steve is the only guy I knew who could get away with that. Other people, you had to go out there and do some kind of work during the week for the coaches to even consider us playing in the game. But that shows that they had that much respect and belief in Steve.”
For Schulters, who came to the Titans from the San Francisco 49ers as a free agent in 2002, seeing became believing when it came to McNair.
“I used to hear the stories about how tough the guy is. You guys threw that around in the media when I was in San Fran, but then I got here to actually see it and experience it,” Schulters said. “He wouldn’t practice all week, and I’d say, ‘Steve, you gonna play?’ and [he’d say], ‘I gotcha, buddy.’ That’s all we needed to hear. That was our leader. We’d have done anything for him.”
Click here for more from the memorial service.