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Ravens remember McNair as the ultimate teammate

FootballBaltimore RavensSteve McNairHomicide

The public tributes for Steve McNair began yesterday at LP Field in Nashville, a memorial service is set for today and the sad and sordid details of his life and murder keep slowly leaking out.

And all of this pains McNair's former teammates on the Ravens, who say they'll remember a completely different Steve McNair from the one who's been portrayed in the news the last few days.

Look at what was reported about the guy in the past 24 hours alone:

First, a friend of McNair's came forth and said, no, McNair and his wife weren't planning to divorce.

Another friend said Mechelle McNair knew nothing about the other woman, 20-year-old Sahel Kazemi, before she was found shot to death with the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback.

And the police finally stopped tap-dancing around the murder-suicide angle, saying, yes, all indications were that Kazemi shot McNair while he was sleeping with the gun she bought earlier in the week, then turned the gun on herself.

In fact, police said, Kazemi had apparently communicated to friends days earlier that she was ready to end the relationship because of her mounting debt and because she suspected McNair was seeing another woman.

All this came out even as crowds gathered in the stadium where he starred. You could watch rolling video of the former quarterback's 13-year NFL career, sign a book that would be presented to his family and make a donation to his charitable foundation.

Oh, on the titillation scale of 1 to 10, McNair's death ranked a solid 8 and maybe higher.

It had all the elements that kept you riveted to the cable channels or the Internet gossip sites: wealth, celebrity, sex, infidelity, a shocking and horrifying end to the lives of two young people.

Still, here's the first thing you keep hearing out of the mouths of the Ravens: McNair was a great teammate, about the greatest a football player could have.

He was with them for just two seasons, leading them to a 13-3 record and the AFC North title in 2006 before injuries forced him to the sidelines for most of 2007 and he retired the following year.

But three things stood out from the very beginning, said a couple of Ravens I talked to: his friendliness, his leadership skills and his toughness.

"Whether it was 6:30 in the morning or 6:30 in the evening, he was always so warm and welcoming," said wide receiver Mark Clayton. "He was like: 'Hey, budd-eee!' He'd give you that real country [greeting] ... he was always open and unassuming."

Trevor Pryce, the veteran defensive tackle who joined the Ravens as a free agent in 2006 after nine seasons with the Denver Broncos, said McNair radiated a quiet confidence that quickly won over his teammates.

"When he spoke as a football player, you believed him," Pryce said. "He reminded me of John Elway in that respect. He didn't have to talk loud - you kind of leaned in to listen to him - but you believed what he said.

"You always had a chance with Steve McNair," he continued. "No matter who you were playing, you had a chance."

McNair's toughness was legendary in NFL circles. And it was on display nearly every day with the Ravens, not just in the yards of tape and all the injury treatment he needed, but in the very way he moved.

"We all play hurt," Pryce said, "but rarely do you see someone limping before and after every play. And he's limping and wincing all the time. But when the ball was snapped, he just shook it off."

Sometimes, McNair tired of being the one absorbing all the pain. Both Pryce and Clayton recalled a hit McNair made on an opposing defensive back after the guy intercepted one of his passes in a game in 2006.

"I forget who we were playing, but Steve just leveled the guy," Pryce recalled. "It was so-o-o bad! It was harder than I've ever hit a guy."

"Oh, God, yes!" added Clayton when I brought up that tackle. "He hit him dead-on ... with his shoulder. It was a real Ray Lewis-esque lunge through the chest cavity."

The hit was so bone-jarring that then-defensive coordinator Rex Ryan kept highlighting it at the team's next film session.

"That's our QB doing that!" Ryan shouted, playing the hit over and over as everyone in the room howled in appreciation.

I keep thinking about the different sides of McNair now, even as more unsavory details of his last days are revealed.

He sure was a terrific football player. It seems he was a great teammate.

But like a lot of ex-players, it seems he had his problems when all the cheering stopped.

Hear Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays from 4-6 p.m. with Jerry Coleman on Fox 1370 AM.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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