Aaron Wright is a Baltimore Sun reporting intern, a 2009 graduate of Hampton University, and a longtime Steve McNair supporter/homer/apologist. Wright states the case for McNair's inclusion in the NFL Hall of Fame.
In the wake of Steve McNair's death the question of whether he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame was raised. To my outrage, the majority of sports writers answered with a resounding "no." To my shock and outrage, the majority of writers polled responded that prior to his death, they never considered his career worthy of Canton. One unnamed Hall of Fame voter concluded that McNair belonged in the "hall of the very good," with the likes of Boomer Esiason, Ken Anderson and Joe Theismann.Eventually my outrage led to research, where I compared McNair's career stats and accomplishments to several quarterbacks already in the Hall of Fame. According to this Sun article from last week, one of the biggest strikes against McNair was his lack of "elite career numbers." The most telling stat they use is his completion percentage, a "pedestrian 60.1 percent." Pedestrian? You know who else had a 60 percent completion percentage? Jim Kelly (60.1) and Troy Aikman (61.5). Many of the quarterbacks used for this comparison failed to reach 60 percent for their career. Dan Fouts, Warren Moon, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Namath and Johnny Unitas all had career completion percentages under 60 percent.
The next stat discusses the all-important passer rating. McNair's career passer rating was 82.8. Not the greatest, but far from average. In this department, McNair compares favorably with many enshrined quarterbacks. His career mark outshines many, but is short of Jim Kelly's 84.4. None of the quarterbacks previously mentioned top 82 percent. Unitas (78.2), Namath (65.5) and Bradshaw (70.9) aren't even in the 80s. In the article, McNair's passer rating is compared to Jeff Garcia's 87.5. Jeff Garcia is a good quarterback, but comparing him to McNair and attempting to show that Garcia superior is laughable.
Quarterbacks are also judged by touchdowns, interceptions and passing yards. This area is where McNair's case is weakest, but it still bears mentioning. None of his career marks stack up to those of Elway, Marino, Young or Montana. His 174 career touchdown passes pales in comparison to Moon's 291, Unitas' 290 and Fouts' 254. However, he did throw more touchdowns than Aikman (165) and Joe Namath (173). For passing yards, McNair's career mark is 31,304. That mark is considerably lower than many quarterbacks in the HOF, but he does hold the edge over Namath (27,663) and Bradshaw (27,989). In the interception department, McNair stands alone, having thrown just 119 in his career -- which means he threw 55 more touchdowns than interceptions. Namath threw more interceptions than touchdowns. Bradshaw threw two more touchdowns than interceptions, while Aikman passed for 24 more scores than INTs.
While McNair's passing yards may pale in comparison to some of the quarterbacks in the HOF, a case must be made for his 3,590 rushing yards and 37 rushing touchdowns. Warren Moon had 22 rushing touchdowns and Bradshaw comes close to McNair with 32. Unitas and Fouts had 13 apiece. The rest have less than 10.
The fact is, McNair owns some guys in the Hall of Fame from a statistical standpoint. The question is, are accomplishments like his three Pro Bowl selections and co-MVP honor in 2003 enough to put him in the Hall of Fame? McNair lost the only Super Bowl he played in, but for argument's sake, Jim Kelly lost all four he appeared in for the Bills. Warren Moon didn't win one and neither did Dan Fouts. So there must be something else. Namath's career marks are below any other quarterback's, but he is a Hall of Famer for guaranteeing and delivering victory over Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. What precedent can McNair claim? He will likely be the last quarterback taken in the first round to have attended an HBCU. For all the stats and accomplishments, it is important to remember McNair didn't attend a premier college football program. Playing at Alcorn State is a far cry from attending Michigan, USC or Florida, but that shouldn't matter. Sure, his surprising selection as a Heisman finalist shouldn't be counted for his Hall of Fame case, but it is part of the whole that made his football career.
McNair does possess stats and accolades that should be good enough for the Hall of Fame. What he doesn't have is a Super Bowl victory, but neither do many of the men enshrined in the halls of Canton. The memory of McNair deserves to be included among those men in the Hall of Fame.