*McNair Tribute Section I The Big Board blog I McNair Thread*
When Steve McNair told his teammates that he was ending his illustrious 13-year career Thursday morning, a packed auditorium of emotional Ravens stood to give their quarterback a standing ovation.
Some players in the room had known McNair personally for just a short time. For others, the bond with No. 9 was forged years ago.
Still, the boisterous reaction to the saddening news was a testament to McNair and the impact he had on the football community.
"I can look back on my career, and I wouldn't change a thing," McNair said in a press conference flanked by general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh. "The way I played the game, the way I approached the game, the love I have for the game – I wouldn't change that.
"I played the game with a lot of passion, I played the game with a lot of heart, and it showed over the course of my 13 years."
The decision came as a surprise to all parties involved. Newsome spoke with McNair, who had been working out regularly at team headquarters in Owings Mills, Md. this offseason, on Wednesday and gave the veteran some time to sit on the idea.
"We talked about the hard work, how much he had put in," explained Newsome. "Through that and having him take 24 more hours to think about it, he came in with even more resolve that it's time for him to step away."
Even McNair admitted that he was eager to return from a disappointing 2007 campaign, where he injured his groin on the second play of the season opener and never returned to full health. McNair developed back and shoulder injuries that limited him to six games, throwing only two touchdowns and four interceptions during the Ravens' fall to a 5-11 record.
"I came up with [the decision] two or three days ago, but it was still lingering since December, when I had the [shoulder] surgery," McNair said. "All the things going through my mind, if I can't compete like I used to, with a healthy mind and body, I was not going to put this team in jeopardy."
McNair, 35, fought through countless injuries since the Houston Oilers made him the third-overall pick in 1995 out of Division I-AA Alcorn State, where he was the only player in NCAA history to gain 16,000 total yards.
Since then, he led the Tennessee Titans to a Super Bowl, was the 2003 NFL co-Most Valuable Player and earned four Pro Bowl berths.
When he was traded to the Ravens in 2006, he brought that success to Baltimore. His first season in purple and black saw the Ravens post a franchise-best 13-3 record and win the AFC North. McNair was the unquestioned leader of the offense, starting all 16 games for the first time since 2002. He added his name to the record books by completing 295 of 468 passes for 3,050 yards, second-most in Ravens history.
"For Baltimore, to make it my last stop, what a great ride," he said. "It was a great ride here for these two short years. You're talking about family. You're talking about respecting each other. The love in this building is unbelievable."
That love showed when Samari Rolle and Derrick Mason, who were both in Tennessee with McNair for the majority of their careers, took the podium on behalf of their longtime teammate and friend.
"I want to tell Steve that I love him, I appreciate him and I enjoyed the 11 years I played with him out of the 12 I've been able to play," Mason said. "I really enjoyed it, especially his friendship. I enjoyed everything about it."
"He's the best player I've ever played with," opined Rolle. "He's a sure-fire Hall of Famer. This hurts."
To close out his remarks, Mason then faced his former quarterback and said, "You are a true competitor. And, I know you will continue to be a competitor at whatever you do."
Much of McNair's post-football life is going to be spent with his wife, Mechelle, and four sons.
"It's a sad day for me, a very emotional day for me," he said. "I'm trying to do the best I can to hold it in, but at the same time, I'm opening up a lot more doors for the future I've got ahead. I can become now the father I need to be to my kids. I can see them grow up, I can do the things I want to do personally in life that I couldn't do during the football season.
"Family is very important to me, and now I can relate to how well my family understood when I was playing the game for 13 years. Sometimes you take things for granted, and you just live and just live."
Judging by the way McNair was sent off by such thunderous applause and emotion, the Ravens are very much going to miss an integral part of their family.