Sulligent, Ala., football coach Dwight Bowling’s heart sunk when he heard the news that former NFL MVP Steve McNair had been shot to death in Nashville on July 4.
Bowling, the longtime Smithville head coach, had met McNair in 1998 in the Jackson airport. Before that though, he watched the then-Mount Olive High quarterback manufacture the winning drive in a 19-16 state championship win against Smithville in 1989, McNair’s junior season
Mount Olive scored the winning points on what Bowling refers to as a polecat play.
“I think they were 12-1 and we were undefeated going into that game. It was a great game,” Bowling said.
Bowling said Steve, printed in The Amory Advertiser as “Steven McNair” wasn’t the only McNair on the field.
“They had a lot of good players. There were two or three McNairs on that team,” he said. “We knew he was good, but there wasn’t any talk of him being a phenom or anything like that. We intercepted him I think four times that day. He was just kind of average that day.”
Average Bowling said, until the game’s deciding drive.
His team trailing 16-12, McNair dropped back and threw it to a receiver who had backed up as a flanker to the right. After the pass, McNair ran back left of the play. The receiver looked downfield before throwing the pass back to his quarterback.
McNair side-stepped Smithville’s cornerback and threw to his tight end near the 5 yard line, who caught the pass and fell into the end zone on the play’s third pass.
On their way to the 1999 Super Bowl, the Titans won the Wild Card game on a play that went across the field as well, the “Music City Miracle” against Buffalo. They came up a yard short against the Rams in the final seconds when Kevin Dyson was tackled a yard shy of the end zone in a 23-16 loss.
McNair, who finished in the Heisman voting in his senior season at Alcorn State, went on to be drafted by the Houston Oilers with the third pick in the 1995 NFL Draft.
He finished his career in Baltimore for two seasons and totaled 31,304 yards and 174 touchdowns.
Bowling later saw McNair in the Jackson airport.
“I asked him if he remembered that game and he said, ‘Man do I, that was one of the greatest games I’ve ever been in.’ I think he did alude to that the year they went to the Super Bowl,” Bowling said. “I had some people call me and say he’d mentioned the game.”
McNair kicked the extra point on the touchdown and Mt. Olive eventually blocked the game-tying field goal attempt.
After two encounters with McNair, Bowling said he was affected a little more after hearing about the former All Pro’s death. At the same time, he said it’s a lesson to others who may find themselves in his position.
“What I knew of him, that one encounter with him off the field, he was just a super-nice guy,” Bowling said. “Those stars go up there and get involved in some of that stuff and this is the outcome of it. It’s a great lesson for everybody. He was just a down-to-earth ole boy from Mississippi. He got in the bright lights and fame that he was in and the money he had. He just let it get away from him. A fellow needs to remember where he comes from and not get invoved in situations like he had gotten himself involved in.”