NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Vince Young knew exactly what he wanted to wear for Jeff Fisher’s charity softball game.
He slipped on a blue jersey with “RIP POPS” and the No. 9 on the back in honor of the late Steve McNair when he pinch hit in the annual game hosted by the Titans coach. Fisher, who spoke at McNair’s memorial and funeral services, called the game in the ninth inning. The score? Tied at 9 apiece.
Young knows exactly how he wants to remember his mentor on the one-year anniversary of his death.
“I’m going to go out to Momma Mac’s house,” Young said of McNair’s mother. “I’m going to go out there and spend the weekend with Momma Mac in Mississippi. It’s the one-year anniversary of Steve not being here. It’s going to be a sad moment, but we’re going to eat some barbecue and celebrate the life of Steve McNair and the things that he’s done in my life as well as his family.”
McNair was known for his blue-collar work ethic and ability to play hurt during a 13-year NFL career with Houston/Tennessee and Baltimore. That reputation could be why people still struggle to accept how he died. McNair, 36, was shot four times — once on each side of the head and twice in the chest — the victim of a murder-suicide by his 20-year-old mistress in the early hours of the Fourth of July.
Fisher’s softball game on June 20, 2009, was the last time McNair, who split time between Nashville and Mississippi after he retired, was seen in public. He just missed slugging two home runs and was happy, smiling, seemingly as strong as ever and signing autographs for his fans.
Two weeks later, the holiday celebrations were in full swing with picnics and barbecues when the stunning news spread throughout Nashville. Fisher learned of McNair’s death stepping off a plane in Kuwait with Eddie George being the first to ring through after the coach got cell reception.
The outpouring of grief spread to LP Field where McNair helped the Titans cement their status in Tennessee by leading the Titans to the 2000 Super Bowl. The team opened the stadium to fans and approximately 9,000 turned out to mourn and watch a commemorative video.
About 4,500 people attended his memorial service in Nashville with thousands of others coming by to pay their respects. A helicopter provided live TV coverage while McNair’s body was moved to the church by hearse, and three of the four local stations showed the service live.
Thousands more said goodbye in his home state of Mississippi. In his home town of Mount Olive, state troopers helped direct traffic when large crowds turned out to view his body.
And nearly 5,000 came to Reed Green Coliseum on the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi for one of the biggest funerals in state history. The McNair family even rented buses to bring in people from Mount Olive. Brett Favre, Ray Lewis, Doug Williams and Jay Cutler were among the NFL players present and past on hand.
Young wasn’t slated to speak but summed up the occasion when he talked about the man he knew from football camps as a teenager and was drafted by the Titans to replace.
“Steve was like a hero to me, and heroes are not supposed to die,” an emotional Young said.
The Titans wore a No. 9 decal on their helmets during the 2009 season. Young got his job back after an 0-6 start and led the team to an 8-8 finish. Off the field, Young has followed through on his promise at that funeral to be there for McNair’s sons as their father had been there for him.
Young joined Trenton and Tyler — the youngest of McNair’s four sons — at a pancake breakfast last September and set up seats for them at Titans’ games and occasionally brought them with him to the interview room. When he wound up at the Pro Bowl as an injury replacement, the two boys and McNair’s widow and mother-in-law shared in the experience as his guests.
“The thing is, Steve would do the same for me,” Young said after the game in Miami.
However, none of that has made the circumstances surrounding McNair’s death any easier to accept, with a former Nashville police officer trying, and failing, to get a grand jury to reopen the investigation.
McNair and Sahel Kazemi were found dead in the afternoon in a condominium the former quarterback shared with another man, separate from his home with his family. The roommate called another friend for help, and it was that man, Robert Gaddy, who dialed 911.
A 9 mm semi-automatic pistol was found underneath Kazemi, and five days later the police chief announced Kazemi shot McNair as he dozed on a couch, first in the head, then twice in the chest and then again in the other side of his head before turning the gun on herself.
Police said she was a woman spinning out of control, one who had thought McNair was divorcing his wife to marry her only to learn he was involved with yet another woman. She was deep in debt, paying for two cars that included a Cadillac Escalade in McNair’s name, losing her roommate with her rent about to double when police stopped her in the Escalade two days before the shooting.
McNair was with her but not charged. He left the scene while she sat in the back of a police car, though he later posted her bail when she was charged with DUI.
A man is in jail, sentenced to 2½ years for selling Kazemi the gun after her arrest. Phone records released in recent months show that the man, Adrian Gilliam, and Kazemi had talked more than 200 times and that Kazemi asked McNair for $2,000 hours before the shooting.
Though many theories abound, police insist it’s a closed case: Kazemi was the shooter.
The revelations about McNair’s private life haven’t changed how most people remember him.
“I will always remember him for the good things that he did for the community and the Tennessee Titans,” fan Derrick Lewis said last July. “Nobody’s perfect.”
The Associated Press