Steve McNair - 1973-2009
First of all, I hope everybody had a fun and safe Fourth of July. I got to go back home and spend time with my family, and boy do I miss them. Secondly, some tragic news struck this weekend. Steve McNair was killed, and all signs point to it being a murder-suicide. First things first, a friend of mine said that McNair got what he deserved for cheating on his wife and that karma is a bitch. While this whole girlfriend on the side thing is a shame, I’m pretty sure nobody deserves to die for cheating. Otherwise there’d be plenty of men and women dead.
Secondly, I fondly remember McNair as the predominant black QB of the NFL before the big influx of the early 2000s. When he was drafted by the Oilers, I wasn’t really into football. But when I started getting into football (the magical 1999-2000 season), I had to take notice of this guy. He was not just a QB, not just a black QB, but he was a damn good QB. For what it’s worth, the then Titans had put some solid talent around him (Eddie George, Kevin Dyson, Frank Wycheck) and so he had weapons. But he was a smart, solid, gutsy QB who took calculated risks with the football. Not quite a game manager and not quite a gunslinger, he stood in between as a winner.
But his death marks the end of the HBCU QB making it to the NFL in style. Len Pasquarelli of ESPN wrote a great piece about how McNair will probably be the last black QB to come from a HBCU in the 1st round of the NFL Draft. He notes that the black QBs that have been drafted recently come from the big programs (JaMarcus Russell – LSU. Mike Vick – Virginia Tech. Vince Young – Texas.) and that the smaller programs, schools like McNair’s alma mater Alcorn State, Grambling, Southern, even Howard just don’t end up creating that talent that the “big time” schools will. His number of 5.5 draftees from the SIAC, SWAC and the MEAC per year speaks to the perceived lack of NFL talent at HBCUs. Off of the top of my head, I can only think of two players from HBCUs who are worth talking about. Antoine Bethea out of a HBCU (Howard) but the guy’s not at one of the “impact” positions (QB, RB, LB, DE and WR) so he doesn’t get as much talk as he should, and Tarvaris Jackson out of Alabama State. Bethea was a 6th round pick; Jackson a 2nd round pick. Jackson is probably the highest picked QB from a HBCU since McNair was 3rd overall.
As Pasquarelli says, talent can be found from any school any year. But let’s be honest. The SIAC or the SEC? The MEAC or the Big 12? Scouts tend to go to the bigger conferences where the competition is better. And having witnessed a number of HBCU football contests personally, it’s a fun atmosphere (GO BUY THE BLACK COLLEGE FOOTBALL EXPERIENCE VIDEO GAME) but sometimes I wonder to myself if these guys could make it in the pros. I don’t doubt anybody’s work ethic or desire, but the SIAC just ain’t the SEC.
Nevertheless, McNair and Doug Williams are the last two black college QBs to make great careers – Williams is a Super Bowl MVP and McNair took the Titans to their only Super Bowl while becoming the 3rd QB to throw for over 30,000 yards and rush for another 2,500. Jackson is in a pivotal point in his career, amd I fear teams will shy away from HBCU QBs because of how Jackson has performed thus far. I really, truly hope that McNair’s death hasn’t marked the death of the top HBCU QB draft pick, but in the 15 years since his historic draft, athletics has changed. Black athletes have become the standard, and schools nationwide (well, except maybe Utah) clamor to have them in their football and basketball programs. And top high school talent know that while there’s something great about being able to play in the Bayou Classic, there’s something even better about playing in the Sugar Bowl from a publicity standpoint. HBCUs just don’t get the same exposure, and I certainly hope that one day soon HBCUs do make serious headlines in athletics so that the people playing hard out there and who deserve some national spotlight get some.
R.I.P., Air McNair, I really hope HBCU QBs didn’t die with you…