King of hearts

The Baltimore Sun

In discussing Steve McNair yesterday, cornerback Samari Rolle referred to the retiring quarterback as Hall of Fame timber.

Certainly McNair's legacy as the consummate NFL "warrior" - to use the well-worn vernacular of the locker room - is without question. His hallmark is that he played with admirable efficiency while suffering injury after injury, with damaged body parts taped and numbed, and did it with perseverance and courage through 13 seasons.

However, getting into Canton will be an uphill battle for him.

The list of latter-day quarterbacks who have been elected to the Hall of Fame who have not led a team to a Super Bowl title or NFL or AFL championship is short.

The quarterbacks who have overcome that handicap are Dan Marino, Dan Fouts, Warren Moon, Jim Kelly, Y.A. Tittle, Fran Tarkenton and Sonny Jurgensen. That's it.

Kelly, Tarkenton and Tittle went to multiple Super Bowls or league championships unsuccessfully. Jurgensen was on a championship team but wasn't the starter. Moon won Grey Cups but never went to a Super Bowl. Neither did Fouts.

Marino - like McNair - lost in his sole Super Bowl appearance.

McNair will certainly be considered. He has a rare statistical distinction. He is one of three quarterbacks in NFL history to pass for 30,000 yards and rush for 3,500. The other two are in the Hall of Fame, Tarkenton and Steve Young.

A first-round draft choice from Alcorn State in 1995, McNair at his best could beat opponents with both his arm and his legs. But if I had to pick a Hall of Famer to compare him to, it would be former Detroit Lions great Bobby Layne because of McNair's leadership qualities and sheer guts.

Layne was a hard-nosed scrapper who could drag a team down the field on willpower alone. Often were the times when McNair did the same in his heyday in Tennessee.

It may be wholly unfair, but Hall of Fame status for McNair would not be nearly the challenge I believe it is if it weren't for that 1 yard that separated the Titans from a possible Super Bowl title against the St. Louis Rams in January 2000. With less than two minutes to play and starting at his own 12-yard line, McNair marched Tennessee to the Rams' 10-yard line where he hit Kevin Dyson on a slant. St. Louis' Mike Jones made the tackle at the threshold of the end zone to save the Rams, 23-16.

If Dyson had scored and if the Titans had won in overtime, McNair probably would have been the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player, which is one of those coronating honors that characterizes Hall of Fame inductees.

But history stands and McNair will be judged on his numbers and accomplishments, which are substantial: 31,304 yards and 174 touchdowns passing; 3,590 yards and 37 TDs running; a four-time Pro Bowl selection and co-MVP of the league in 2003.

Just as impressive a litany would be one that reads: knee, ankle, sternum, groin, shoulder, back, elbow, toe, thumb and ribs with the preceding adjectives of strained, sprained, ripped, dislocated and ruptured.

Because if McNair is to be judged fairly by history and Hall of Fame electors, the deliberation should include - whether he makes it or not - not only how many titles, yards and touchdowns, but also how big the heart.

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad