For Black History Month, we will spotlight some of the greatest athletes in Historically Black College and University History. Today we honor the man known as “Air” McNair.
Steve McNair was born on Valentine’s Day in 1973. The Mississippi-Native began starred as a four-sport athlete at Mount Olive High School, playing football, baseball, basketball, and track. McNair was good enough to be drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 35th round of the 1991 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft. McNair was pursued by the University of Florida but like a lot of Black High School Quarterbacks, he was offered a scholarship to play another position. Wanting to stay at his desired position of QB, McNair decided to play football for the Braves of Alcorn State University in rural Lorman, Mississippi.
In his senior season, McNair gained 6,281 combined yards rushing (904) and passing (5,377), along with 56 touchdowns. McNair took home the Walter Payton Award as the NCAA Divison 1-AA’s best player and finished 3rd in the Heisman Trophy voting. Many believe that if McNair was at a bigger school with his senior numbers he would have taken home College Football’s most coveted award. He left Alcorn State with 16,823 career yards, an NCAA Football Championship Series (Formerly known as the NCAA Division 1-AA) record to this day.
In 1995, the Houston Oilers were searching for a new quarterback. The Oilers was once home to another Black Quarterback, Warren Moon, who with his combined yards total in the NFL and Canadian Football League, was the all-time leader in passing yards. Moon was traded to the Minnesota Vikings after the 1993 season and struggled to find his replacement until new Head Coach Jeff Fisher drafted McNair with the third pick in the 1995 NFL Draft. At the time, McNair became the highest-drafted African-American quarterback in NFL history. While he played some spot duty, Steve officially became the starter in 1996, the team’s first season in Tennessee and the state where he would become a legend.
After back to back 8-8 seasons in 1997 and 1999, the Titans set the NFL on fire, posting a 13-3 record and a Super Bowl berth versus the St. Louis Rams. In the games final seconds, McNair threw a pass to wide receiver Kevin Dyson which came up a yard short of the winning touchdown. McNair continued to improve as a passer and in 2003, McNair made history becoming the first Black quarterback to win the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award, sharing honors with Indianapolis Colts QB Peyton Manning. McNair finished the 2003 season as the league leader in passer rating and became the youngest player in NFL history to pass for 20,000 yards and run for 3,000 yards.
McNair finished the last two seasons of his career with the Baltimore Ravens. His career achievements include:
- 3× Pro Bowl (2000, 2003, 2005)
- Second-team All-Pro (2003)
- NFL Most Valuable Player (2003)
- NFL passer rating leader (2003)
- Heisman Trophy finalist (1994)
- Walter Payton Award (1994)
- Titans/Oilers Ring of Honor
- Tennessee Titans No. 9 retired
The world unfortunately lost McNair in July of 2009, but his legacy on the field and for future HBCU athletes lives on.