McNair remembered as great leader

Published 1:17 am Sunday, July 5, 2009

NATCHEZ — The news that Steve McNair had been shot to death in Nashville, Tenn., Saturday shocked and saddened Alcorn State fans across the area, who remember McNair as a great leader on and off the field.

Alcorn State fan Michael Winn attended most of McNair’s games at Alcorn State, and said he was stunned when he heard the news that McNair was dead.

“I was very surprised and sad that he did not have the kind of life after retirement that you come to hope and desire for pro athletes,” Winn said. “This is certainly a big loss to his family and a loss to us as Alcornites.”

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Winn fondly recalled the excitement that permeated the air when McNair quarterbacked the Braves from 1991-1994.

“It was electric,” Winn said. “When you turned off Highway 61, you met the traffic. It was lined up for miles. If you wanted to get to the game on time, you had to leave Natchez at about 6:30 or 7 a.m. If you left just a few hours before gametime, you’d be stuck in traffic and not get there until almost halftime.”

McNair became a national sensation at Alcorn State, with fans packing Jack Spinks Stadium and national media following the Braves’ every game.

McNair even made the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1994 with the caption “Hand him the Heisman.”

McNair averaged an astounding 527.2 yards per game as a senior and finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting.

He was then selected as the third overall pick by the Houston Oilers in the 1994 NFL draft.

Current Alcorn State football coach Earnest Collins said McNair not only brought notoriety to Alcorn State, but also to Historically Black Colleges and Universities in general.

“I think Steve was a phenomical representation of what the HBCU’s can give to athletes in general,” Collins said. “Every other college that recruited him wanted him to play defensive back. But Steve wanted to play quarterback. He said ‘I’m intelligent enough and gifted enough to play quarterback.’ He was really a role model for black quarterbacks to stick with what they do.”

And Collins said McNair was one of the trailblazers when it came to black quarterbacks in the NFL.

“Steve went to three Pro Bowls and helped dispelled the myth (that blacks couldn’t play quarterback in the NFL),” Collins said. “What Steve did was so important for black quarterbacks. He said I’m not going to let you turn me into something I’m not, and he did it by coming to Alcorn and shattering every record there was and finishing third in the Heisman Trophy voting.”

Collins said he is grieving McNair’s death just like everyone else in the Alcorn State family.

“My heart and prayers go out to his family,” Collins said. “I pray God shows them grace and mercy and they can recover from this. It was a loss to the Alcorn family as well. Every Alcornite around the country is feeling the pain of this loss.”