The Ravens Got A Boost When Calm Comeback King Came To Town

July 05, 2009|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,

When former Ravens quarterback Steve McNair came to Baltimore in 2006, he was near the end of his career but at the beginning of something special for the Ravens. Not only did McNair lead the Ravens to the playoffs that season, but he eventually became the model for a franchise that had been hurt by poor quarterback decisions.

As news of McNair's death in Nashville, Tenn., Saturday traveled through Baltimore, the minds of many Ravens fans had to drift back to 2006 when we all hitched a ride on McNair. And we hoped he had enough stamina and magic left to take the Ravens deep into the NFL playoffs.

The dream ended with a 15-6 loss to Indianapolis in the second round, but McNair created the mold that the Ravens used in April 2008 to draft a quarterback in the first round out of the University of Delaware named Joe Flacco.

And as long as Flacco plays in Baltimore, the Ravens owe a lot of his success to McNair. It's a debt they can't repay.

"Two things we learned from Steve were about his accuracy and poise," said Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, vacationing with his family in Muscle Shoals, Ala. "The bigger the game, the more poise Steve showed, and that led us to Joe. We had quarterbacks before with bigger arms and great intelligence, but not the combination that Steve had.

"Once we had the prototype, we saw the same qualities in Joe, that coolness under fire," Newsome said. "I'm saddened by all of this, sad for Steve's family. I'm speechless, but Steve made a major impact on this franchise for the short time he played here."

Before the arrival of McNair, the Ravens had been through numerous quarterbacks. We all know the names. Vinny Testaverde, Scott Mitchell, Jeff Blake, Tony Banks, Jim Harbaugh, Chris Redman and Kyle Boller, just to name a few.

Some were too young and others were too old. McNair was past his prime in 2006, but he had other intangibles that made him a great leader. McNair was tough, and he often took beatings because he held onto the ball too long.

After each game in 2006, his body was always battered and he walked awkwardly with an S-shape in his back. He was often taped up from neck to shoulder, and wore so much padding, he looked like he was wearing a life jacket.

Free agent Matt Stover, the longtime Ravens kicker, says he never saw a tougher guy in his 19 seasons in the NFL.

"He was the ultimate pro, the toughest guy I ever played with or against, and I've played with some of the best," Stover said. "But at the same time, he was a very gentle and sensitive guy. He respected everyone from the trainer to the waterboy to even a kicker. He was the ultimate team player."And that's what made McNair special. He had every right to have a huge ego, but we never saw it in Baltimore. In Tennessee, there were reports about his not being willing to practice.

But all he did here was play hard. And the Ravens' defensive players loved McNair.

"One of the things I admired about him most was his attitude," Newsome said. "Whether you played with him or against him, you loved his competitiveness. He could defy the odds because whenever you needed a play, he would make a play.

"Actually, he did more for our defense than our offense because not only did other teams have to game plan for Steve, but our defense finally understood we had a guy that could win a game for us at quarterback," Newsome said.

McNair played only two seasons in Baltimore. His 2007 season was injury-afflicted and it started right in the season opener when he injured a groin and hamstring against the Cincinnati Bengals. McNair started only six games that season, and was on injured reserve for the last five. He retired in the offseason, but we won't remember that.

We'll remember the 13 seasons he spent in the NFL throwing for 31,304 yards, 174 touchdowns and going to three Pro Bowls. We'll remember how competitive he was when he played for our nemesis, the Tennessee Titans, and how he was great at improvising. We'll remember how he came up a yard short of sending the 2000 Super Bowl into overtime as the Titans lost to St. Louis, 23-16, on the last play of regulation.

But most of all, we'll remember how McNair rallied the Ravens in 2006. His passes lacked zip, and some of the mobility was gone by then. But McNair still completed 295 of 468 passes for 3,050 yards and 16 touchdowns because he was accurate on short passes and could manage a game. He was tough, and still the king of the comebacks.

He gave a team that had little hope life again.

And he finally gave the Ravens a quarterback they could finally believe in.

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