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|McNair left lasting impression|
Where do I start in talking about former Alcorn State quarterback Steve McNair, who announced his retirement from the Baltimore Ravens last week?
The many last-second wins at Henderson Stadium and then Jack Spinks Stadium where a concert-like crowd was treated to another rock-star type performance?
The guy who went from saying maybe four sentences a game following a game his freshman year to a go who talked with ease with the country smile when he was a senior?
The guy who played through so much pain and through so many injuries that bandage companies probably lost revenue after he left town?
The guy who brought in media from all over the state to announce he would stay in Lorman for his senior year instead of entering the draft, making one simple statement - "I'm still an Alcornite?"
The guy who was hit seven yards out of bounds against Sam Houston State, suffered bruised ribs, but still led his team to a 31-24 win?
Lorman, Ms., will never again see anything the likes of what Steve McNair brought to that small country town that became the spotlight of a nation.
Sports Illustrated ran a picture of McNair with the following caption - "Hand him the Heisman."
McNair finished third in the voting as Rashaan Salaam of Colorado walked away with the hardware an Penn State's Ki-Jana Carter finished second.
But in a year where Georgia's Eric Zeier was the only other senior signal-caller grabbing headlines, the nation was fascinated by this young man from Mount Olive. McNair threw for 4,863 yards and 44 touchdowns that season and ran for another 936 yards that season.
I had the misfortune of sitting by the telephone in the press box on the day McNair broke the Division I-AA record for total offensive yards against Southern University, breaking Neil Lomax's record when he was at Portland State.
The phone rang every 45 seconds, with folks from ABC, CBS, ESPN, WFAN and countless other TV and radio folks wanting an update on how many yards McNair had, how much time was left in the quarter and so on.
It was a beautiful sunny day and thousands of people were jam-packed into this tiny college that named its new stadium after a guy named Jack Spinks.
And you wouldn't you know Alcorn would be playing Southern, with the most loyal fans in the SWAC. Normally, the battle of the bands (Alcorn's Sound of Dynomite and Southern University ) would be the headline for this matchup (as is the case today). But on this day it was all about the football. And all about Steve McNair
Then there was the Grambling game in McNair's senior year when the Tigers were led by a good quarterback of their own - Kendrick Nord. With traffic still not moving from my vantage point from the Grambling press box, I waited until about 11 p.m. before making my way to my car.
By 1 a.m., I was able to drive about two miles. I finally got on Interstate 20 about an hour later. I doubt that has happened in Grambling since then.
Steve McNair was the younger brother of Fred McNair, a pretty good quarterback himself who had a good career at Alcorn. Fred was actually a little more talkative than his little brother.
Then again, neither one of them had the charisma of younger brother Tim, who played wide receiver at Alcorn and was quite the athlete himself.
Tim never saw a recorder he didn't like and while Steve and Fred were more prone to slip into the lockerroom without saying a word, you never had to work hard to find Tim. And it was worth it. He was very animated and always had fun quotes.
If Steve would have had Tim's personality, I believe Steve would have gotten at least 100 more Heisman votes.
But back to Steve.
Southeastern Conference schools wanted McNair as a defensive back, but he wanted to play quarterback, so he followed his brother to Alcorn.
Cardell Jones was starting his first year at ASU which reminds me of how Jones would be one of the last ones on the Alcorn bus and he would ask, "Is McNair on here?" Someone would answer, "yeah," and Jones would turn to the bus driver and say, "Let's go."
Rickey Taylor was the offensive coordinator and he was smart enough to give McNair the ball and let him go.
Reginald Martin started the first game of McNair's freshman year. He would be pulled halfway through the game against Grambling and would not see much playing time at all finishing out his career.
I actually felt sorry for the opposing defense at times against McNair. He would have them chasing him literally all over the field before finally stopping and heaving it downfield.
The only lineman I ever saw actually sack McNair was Michael Strahan of Texas Southern. But even Mike will tell you Steve got the better of him each year.
When I first started covering Alcorn games I could leave Natchez at noon and be in the press box dodging wasps while trying to get comfortable in an actual desk in old Henderson Stadium before kickoff.
McNair's freshman year, I made the mistake of only leaving two hours earlier for the final game against Jackson State.
When I got close to Lorman the traffic was standing still from both directions heading onto the lonely highway leading to the university.
And for some fool reason, Mississippi State Police kept that two-way road two ways.
When I finally got on that road, cars were passing cars in ditches and around hills.
I finally got to park halfway through the first quarter. I would never leave late for another Alcorn game.
McNair had some capable receivers in Torrance Small, who played with the Saints, and Cedric Tillman, who spent time with Denver.
Tracy Cook was a very capable tight end from Fayette, while Donald Ray Ross of Port Gibson had some electric moves at wide receiver.
Marcus Hinton was all-everything as a freshman receiver, but gained a little too much weight and never gained that same form.
The road to Alcorn off hwy. 61 is now a four-lane. A little late for that. I don't know if they are expecting another Steve McNair or not. I hope not.
Those kind of football players don't make their way around small-town colleges any more.
But their impression is lifelong.
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