News left Tank feeling empty
McNair’s death hit Patriots safety hard
It’s still difficult for Tank Williams to believe Steve McNair is dead, and it’s even more difficult for him to utter the words. The Patriots safety was at a former college teammate’s wedding in California on the Fourth of July when he heard McNair had been shot and killed.
As Williams, who played with McNair for four seasons in Tennessee, recounted how he learned about the 2003 NFL co-MVP’s death, he hesitated when he got to the part where he learned “Steve was . . . ’’ - Williams paused - “dead.’’
The news hit Williams hard because he was close with McNair, who played 13 seasons, 11 for the Titans/Oilers franchise and two for the Ravens.
The two shared a home state (Mississippi) and an enjoyment of fishing. Williams had cousins that attended Alcorn State and as a fan watched “Air McNair’’ rewrite the record books at Alcorn. That’s why Williams was thrilled when he was drafted by Tennessee in 2002. Williams went from fan to friend.
“That’s why I’m emotional about him,’’ said Williams, who planned to attend McNair’s funeral yesterday at the University of Southern Mississippi, located about 35 miles from Mount Olive, where McNair grew up. “I mean, I spent a lot of time with Steve - whether it was the back of the bus or whatever - because we’re both fellow Mississippians. I actually fished in his fishing tournament probably about a year ago. I spent a lot of time around Steve and really got to know what kind of guy he was, and he was one of the greatest human beings you could be around.’’
Williams didn’t want to talk about the sordid circumstances surrounding McNair’s death. The married McNair, 36, was shot four times in his sleep by his girlfriend, 20-year-old Sahel Kazemi, in his Nashville condominium. Kazemi then turned the gun on herself, committing suicide. Williams wants people to remember McNair not for his faults, but for his feats, on and off the field - like the aid McNair organized for Hurricane Katrina victims in his home state.
“Food, water, medicine, everything we could send down to the victims in Mississippi. Those are just the type of things that Steve would do just from his heart,’’ said Williams, who is from Bay St. Louis, Miss.
Williams described McNair as the “face of the team’’ in Nashville. McNair put the Titans on the map after they moved from Houston following the 1996 season, leading them to the Super Bowl in just their third season in town.
McNair put himself on the NFL map with his toughness. In 2002, there was a five-game stretch during which he was unable to practice because of injury, but still managed to lead the Titans to the AFC title game.
During his co-MVP season - he shared the award with Peyton Manning - McNair was bothered by a right calf injury and a bone spur in his left ankle, but missed just two games while leading the NFL in passer rating (100.4) and throwing a career-high 24 touchdown passes. That season ended when the Patriots beat McNair and the Titans in the AFC Divisional round at a frigid Gillette Stadium.
“He was very tough and he didn’t have to say he was because you knew he was from the things he played through,’’ wrote Patriots linebacker Adalius Thomas, who was McNair’s teammate with the Ravens in 2006, in an e-mail.
McNair, who threw for 31,304 yards and 174 touchdowns (against 119 interceptions) while completing 60.1 percent of his passes, and rushed for 3,590 yards and 37 TDs, got recognition for being a gutsy quarterback but not enough for being a very good one.
“I believe he got some recognition, but I believe he was a far better quarterback than most people know,’’ said Williams.
McNair, who was a three-time Pro Bowl selection, never won a Super Bowl or was first-team All-Pro. He likely faces an uphill fight for the Hall of the Fame.
“Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t know if he is a Hall of Famer or not,’’ said Williams. “I really don’t know all the criteria that they go by, but I do know that the years that I played with him he was definitely one of the best quarterbacks in the league.
“If anything, his name will at least come up. I don’t really think Steve would even be worried about if he’s a Hall of Famer or not though, as long as people recognized the effort that he showed each and every Sunday and the passion that he played with and just recognize everything that he did for people outside of football.’’
McGinest in market for a jobWillie McGinest has made it clear he would like to play this season, and that he would be open to a return to the Patriots. At least one expert on 3-4 outside linebackers, former Browns coach Romeo Crennel, thinks McGinest has something left in the tank at age 37. Crennel coached McGinest for three seasons in Cleveland, including last year.
“Willie did a nice job last season,’’ said Crennel, the Patriots’ defensive coordinator from 2000-04. “He played most of the snaps for us. He’s really good vs. tight ends at the point. He can still apply pressure on the quarterback. He has kept himself in good shape. If he gets the right opportunity . . . I don’t think Willie would just take any opportunity, it has to be a good situation, a situation he feels good about.’’
McGinest, the NFL’s all-time leader in playoff sacks (78), had just one sack last season and only eight since leaving the Patriots for Cleveland after the 2005 season, during which he had six.
“To some degree, the numbers are the numbers,’’ said Crennel. “You can’t dispute the numbers. In this game, in this league, everyone looks at sacks, but he did a good job for us last season. He’s not as fast as when he first started, but he still has a knack for applying pressure on a quarterback because of his big frame. He can power guys, and when guys brace for power he still has enough wiggle to get to the edge off the block.’’
McGinest might want to be back in the NFL this season, but Crennel, who was fired by the Browns after going 24-40 in four seasons, still intends to sit out ’09 while he recovers from hip replacement surgery, with a focus on a return in 2010. He admits it’s going to be different not coaching for the first time since 1969.
“I think it will be a little strange when we get to [training camp],’’ Crennel said. “My wife keeps me occupied with honey-do’s and traveling. I’m looking forward to spending time with my grandkids.’’
Andruzzi again proves he's not your average JoeCatching up with Joe Andruzzi, a member of the Patriots from 2000-04, a starter on the offensive line for all three New England Super Bowl-winning teams this decade, and a cancer survivor. In May 2007, Andruzzi was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma, a form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Cancer-free since March 2008, Andruzzi held the first “Joe Andruzzi and Friends Golf Tournament’’ Friday in Sharon, with proceeds going to the Joe Andruzzi Foundation, which Joe and his wife, Jen, started to fund cancer research and provide assistance to cancer patients.
What are your hopes for this tournament? Ultimately, what do you hope to accomplish?
JA: “First thing, I want everybody to enjoy themselves, have a great time, and realize what they’re here for. People that don’t know me or just know me from when I played, it was a lot different a year and a half ago when I was bald, 70 pounds lighter, and sick as a dog. It just lets them understand and raise awareness and lets them know that [cancer] can affect anybody. It doesn’t matter who you are. Cancer is a scary, scary disease and we’re all hoping for that ultimate goal, which is a cure.’’
What did/does it mean to have the support of your former teammates?
JA: “A lot of guys . . . they’re going to turn around and show their support. When I was going through it, whether it was a phone call, an e-mail, a note. I had numerous guys, Matt Light, Steve Neal, Dan Koppen, the O-line guys that I sweated with, come and visit me in the hospital. Steve Neal donated blood for me. Russ Hochstein tried to donate blood, but he was out of the country, so they wouldn’t let him.’’
Do you ever get the urge to play again?
“Of course you get the urge, maybe on a Sunday, not during training camp, not during practice. But my body tells my mind elsewise . . . after six surgeries, multiple injuries, and a very hard-core [chemotherapy] treatment. Chemo for me was the icing on the cake. It really deteriorated my body and really shut me down. It takes me a little bit of time in the morning just to get out of bed. The body still hurts, but you try and get through it and move on with things. I’m alive. That’s what I can focus in on. I’m enjoying my time with my wife and four kids and family.’’
Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at email@example.com; material from personal interviews, wire services, and other beat writers was used in this report.