Passing of a legend|Former teammates react to McNair’s death

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 5, 2009

The sudden death of former National Football League All-Pro quarterback Steve McNair has left not only his friends and family shocked but also his former Alcorn State University teammates.

McNair, 36, was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head at a Nashville condominium Saturday afternoon by Nashville police. The body of an unidentified woman was found with McNair’s.

Current Madison Parish football coach Toriano Wells, who played with McNair for two seasons at Alcorn, was like many shocked and distressed by McNair’s death.

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“It’s a pretty sad situation. I played with him for two years at Alcorn State. I got the news from two of my Alcorn teammates, Calvin Robinson and Derek Mason,” said Wells, who was finishing up a clinic put on by the Louisiana Coaches Association.

“Right now, we’re just trying to offer condolences to the family and the Alcorn family. That… and just trying to figure out what happened. The biggest thing is trying to help out Steve’s family as much as possible.”

Wells, who played his high school ball at Vicksburg High School and then later coached under coach Alonzo Stevens for three seasons before taking the head coaching job at Madison Parish, fondly remembers McNair’s impact at Alcorn State.

“I’ll remember his work ethic the most,” said Wells, who played cornerback for the Braves from 1992 until 1997. “Every game, Steve gave it everything he had. He was also a great people person.

“This is so shocking, you just can’t believe it. You’re trying to sift through all the information and see who’s heard anything,” Wells said.

Port Gibson assistant principal and football coach Lynn Lang, who played with McNair in 1992 and 1993, remembered McNair as the man who put Alcorn on the map. McNair led Alcorn to a Southwest Athletic Conference title in 1992.

“He was Alcorn,” Lang said. “He meant everything to Alcorn. The biggest thing I’ll remember about him is that he was a true professional. No matter how injured he was, when the lights came on, you couldn’t tell.

“He was one of the superstars you could touch. A lot of athletes lose touch, but he never lost sight of his roots. He had such an approachable attitude and demeanor. He was just one of the guys.”

Alcorn State sports information director Latoya Shields issued this statement from the university.

“His collegiate career was one that exemplified the heart and spirit of an Alcornite. In his 13-year NFL career, he proved to be a professional and a great leader on the field as well as a contributor to the community off of the field.

“While his on-the-field exploits will always be remembered, his passion for the game and life will never be forgotten.  Our thoughts and prayers are with the McNair family at this time.”

McNair played for Alcorn from 1991 to 1994, following in the footsteps of his older brother Fred. His younger brother,  Tim, played later at Alcorn as a wide receiver.

McNair, initially known as “Air II,” after his brother Fred was known as the original “Air,” set the NCAA record for career total yardage with 16,823 yards. He was also second on the NCAA all-time passing yardage list with 14,496 and was third with 119 touchdown passes.

Steve McNair finished third in the Heisman Trophy balloting in his final year, 1994, when he led the Braves to a 8-3-1 record. He completed 304-of-530 passes for a Division I-AA-record 4,863 yards with 44 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. He rushed 119 times for 936 yards and nine more scores.

He was taken third in the 1995 NFL Draft by the Houston Oilers, who later moved to Memphis and then Nashville.

After taking over as the starting quarterback for the Titans in 1997, McNair led Tennessee to Super Bowl XXXIV in Atlanta in 2000. He was just a yard shy on a pass to Kevin Dyson on the final play of the game that would have won the contest for the Titans.

In 2003, McNair shared Associated Press MVP honors with Peyton Manning, as he set career-highs with 3,350 passing yards, 264 completions and 21 touchdowns. In 2006, McNair was traded to the Baltimore Ravens, where he led the Ravens to an AFC North Division title and the first round of the NFL playoffs. In 2007, his final season, he missed nine games and announced his retirement in April 2008.


Contact Jeff Byrd and Steve Wilson at