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|McNair gone, legend lives on|
I never thought I would live longer than Steve McNair. Watching him for four years in Lorman and places such as Grambling, Baton Rouge and Jackson, the Alcorn State quarterback phenom seemed invincible.
Watching him on the field it seemed kryptonite was the only way to slow this talented quarterback down.
He was part Harry Houdini and Elvis Presley.
It was unreal how he evaded tacklers time and time again. Michael Strahan of Texas Southern was the only lineman I ever saw tackle the Mount Olive product behind the line of scrimmage.
And the following he had — while certainly not the magnitude of Elvis or the Beatles — was incredible for someone performing in this tiny Mississippi town.
I made the mistake only once of leaving Vidalia only two hours before heading to Lorman, some 40 minutes away in McNair's sophomore year of 1992. After sitting on Hwy. 907 for about two hours, missing the first quarter while motorists passed me along the side of the road in ditches — I didn't make that mistake again — arriving at the newly-built Jack Spinks Stadium some two hours before kickoff for the last three years.
And then there was the trip to Grambling in McNair's senior year where traffic on I-20 was backed up three hours before kickoff. Sure there was construction (there's always construction on I-20), but it was obvious where everyone was headed.
After another wild comeback win in which the Braves won 62-56 as McNair outdueled Grambling's Kendrick Nord, I arrived home at about 4 a.m., having to wait four hours to get off campus.
Before McNair arrived, Alcorn played in Henderson Stadium an old run-down stadium where bees swarmed the press box and desks were used for chairs.
Spinks Stadium seldom had an empty seat when McNair was playing, and it was revival time in Lorman on Saturday afternoons in Lorman and all God's children packed the stands to watch McNair perform his magic.
McNair, who set a state record for interceptions as a defensive back at Mount Olive, was recruited by several Division I-A schools. Alcorn had coach Cardell Jones promised McNair he would play quarterback. McNair was also drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 35th round of the Major League Baseball Draft.
Seattle's loss was Lorman's gain.
Alcorn's Sound of Dy-No-Mite band kept the crowd moving while Alcorn's defense allowed another score, and then the crowd would be moving again when McNair went back on the field to put the Braves back ahead.
The Sounds of Dy-No-Mite would play "End of the Road" by Boyz to Men and the crowd would still be singing the song 10 minutes after the band stopped.
Woodstock had come to Lorman, and the lovefest was all about Steve McNair.
Alcorn won the SWAC in McNair's junior year, but the Braves were embarrassed by Northeast Louisiana 78-27 in sub-freezing temperatures. But the NLU faithful knew they had seen something special in McNair.
McNair had a press conference before his senior year to announce he was staying ("I'm still an Alcornite"). I laughed at a couple of out-of-state media guys who looked like they just rode with Chevy Chase when they arrived haggard-looking after finally finding Alcorn State.
Alcorn P.A. announcer Emmanuel Barnes could hardly keep up with McNair his senior year. I remember one play where Barnes screamed, "McNair, McNair, McNair ... well, you saw it."
McNair injured his ankle against Jackson State in his final regular season game, but still suited up in the Braves' playoff game against powerful Youngstown State the following week. Alcorn suffered another big loss, but McNair's courage in defeat found him more fans north of the Mason-Dixon Line.
McNair was 13-0 in home games at Spinks Stadium. He would finish his senior year with 14,496 passing yards and 2,327 rushing yards, breaking Portland State quarterback Neil Lomax's mark for total yards in Division I-AA.
He broke that record fittingly against Southern, one of the best defensive teams in the SWAC. McNair had 649 total yards in that contest, and tossed the ball to his mom, Lucille, when he broke it. Lucille took the Heisman pose with the football as McNair went back out to lead another comeback win.
The Clarion-Ledger used a helicopter that day to get its photographer back to the office in time because they knew the circus atmosphere that would be surrounding the game.
I happened to be by the phone in the press box where then Alcorn Sports Information Director Derick Hackett placed me with a sly grin.
I found out why when the phone rang every 30 seconds as ESPN, CNN, New York Times, CBS radio and countless others were calling for updates on the game.
I felt as if I were doing the play-by-play.
McNair would go on to a great NFL career, earning MVP honors and taking the Tennessee Titans to the Super Bowl. And he would continue supporting charities, and even sent relief packages to his home state of Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina.
McNair retired from the NFL two years ago. But nothing could ever compare to those days in Lorman.
While McNair appeared anything but human on the football field, it may have been a human weakness that ended his life. I'm not even going to try to speculate what led to the tragic end to two lives in Nashville on July 4.
The shame is that this humble, quiet, caring and blessed individual will be remembered for how his life ended — and not how it brought excitement, happiness and a strong sense of togetherness to a tiny Mississippi town and that will never see anything like those days again. Rest in peace, Steve McNair.
Joey Martin is sports editor of the Concordia Sentinel in Ferriday/Vidalia. The Concordia Sentinel is a sister publication of The Franklin Sun in Winnsboro and The Ouachita Citizen in Monroe/West Monroe. Martin can be reached by e-mailing email@example.com.