Over at hardcore gridiron geek site Football Outsiders, Mike Tanier offers a thoughtful look at Steve McNair's football career, with a focus on Super Bowl XXXIV and the play that epitomized McNair's toughness and defined his career to many fans--not the final play, where Kevin Dyson came up one yard short, but the penultimate play, which can be seen 18 seconds into the above video. In Tanier's words:
The next play could have been the greatest in Super Bowl history, if only the play after it succeeded. Words don't do justice to McNair's scramble, eluding two defenders, planting his hand on the turf to keep his footing, throwing a strike to Dyson at the 10-yard line. It was breathtaking, and it took America to a place we had never been before: ten yards, one play, no timeouts, the Super Bowl in the balance.
McNair never rose to the elite level of John Elway, Joe Montana, Dan Marino or Johnny Unitas, and isn't a likely bet to make the Hall of Fame. But that play made the world take notice of Steve McNair, and cemented his reputation as a scrapper and a fighter. And though it may go against conventional sports wisdom, winning isn't everything. Tanier puts it eloquently:
One Yard Short exposes those "he's not a winner" arguments for the suckerpunch they are, showing the keen edge that separates champions from also-rans. McNair earned immunity from such taunts that day, proving that he could, even though he didn't. Thoughtful fans can return to that moment when pondering the legacy of other players, who may have come up five yards short, or twenty, but could still see the end zone, still gave their teams a chance at glory:
A loss is not always a failure.
Losing a game doesn't make someone less motivated, less talented, less conscientious, less of a man.
There are elements of competition -- perseverance, sportsmanship, courage, effort -- that are just as praiseworthy as winning.
The circumstances surrounding McNair's death cloud his off-field reputation, but they don't change what he represented on the field. Leader, trailblazer, warrior, a mortal who came up just short of a championship, a worker who never complained, always battled, did what was best for the team. A man who played football the way it was supposed to be played, and by losing Super Bowl XXXIV, taught us how the game should be enjoyed.