One of Mississippi’s most heralded quarterbacks, Stephen LaTreal McNair was born in Mount Olive on 14 February 1973, the fourth of Lucille McNair’s five children. His father left when he was a young child, and the onus of raising the family was left to Lucille. Following the example of his older brother, Fred, Steve became Mount Olive High School’s starting quarterback, leading the team to a state title in 1989.
In 1991 McNair enrolled at Alcorn State University, where Fred had started at quarterback for three years. While Steve had offers to play defensive back at other schools, only Alcorn State offered him the opportunity to play quarterback. Following an injury to the starting quarterback in the season’s first game. McNair threw for three touchdowns to lead the squad to a 27–22 upset of Grambling. Over the next four years, McNair put on a show, earning the nickname Air McNair and throwing and running for a combined 16,823 yards to become college football’s career yardage leader.
McNair finished third in the balloting for the 1994 Heisman Trophy, and the Houston Oilers selected him with the third pick in the first round of the National Football League draft—at the time the highest selection ever for a black quarterback.
McNair played sporadically during his first two seasons with the Oilers, starting a total of six games. Before the 1997 season the team moved to Nashville, and McNair became the starter at quarterback. After two mediocre years and an injury-shortened 1999 season, McNair and the newly renamed Titans hit their stride in 2000, compiling a 12–3 record and reaching the Super Bowl, where they lost to the St. Louis Rams, 23–16.
McNair played eleven seasons with the Oilers/Titans before being traded to the Baltimore Ravens, for whom he played two more years before retiring in April 2008. Over his career, he threw for 174 touchdowns and ran for 37 more, and he accounted for nearly 35,000 offensive yards. He shared the 2003 Most Valuable Player honors with Peyton Manning and was selected to the Pro Bowl three times.
On 4 July 2009 McNair was killed by his girlfriend as part of a murder-suicide.
- Thomas George, New York Times (28 September 1994, 22 January 1995)
- Peter King, Sports Illustrated (28 November 1994, 20 February 1995)
- S. L. Price, Sports Illustrated (26 September 1994)
- Pro Football Reference website, www.pro-football-reference.com