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McNair not forgotten
Laurel man remembers his friend killed in 2009
It’s been two years and local resident Earl Reed this week said he remembers it like it just happened.
It was July 4th, 2009 when Reed heard about the untimely death of his good friend and former NFL star Steve McNair.
At that time, Reed said it seemed unreal.
Reed, a Laurel Police Department detective, said the death of McNair was “like losing a brother.”
“I was at my grandmother’s house in Vossburg when they called and said Steve had been shot,” Reed said. “Up until then, things were fine. Then after I heard the news, my whole day went sour.”
“I just couldn’t believe it,” he said. “It’s like a dream that I can’t wake up from. I knew it was real, but I just didn’t want to believe it.”
Reed had been with the professional football player just days before the incident that took his life. McNair and Reed had shared time together on June 9, June 25 and June 27 of 2009 at various events in Hattiesburg.
Reed, a graduate of Alcorn State University in Lorman, first met Fred McNair, Steve McNair’s older brother.
“I met Steve his freshman year at Alcorn in 1991,” Reed said. “He was a quiet, skinny boy from Mount Olive, but I saw him grow into a man.”
By the time Reed met Steve McNair, he was known for his sports ability. As a freshman at Mount Olive High School, McNair was known for playing football, baseball, and basketball in addition to running track. As a junior, McNair led Mount Olive to the state championship.
This high school standout, who had several colleges and universities seeking him, chose to go to Alcorn State University.
“He was being sought after by Miami, Florida State and University of South Carolina to play defensive back, but Steve wanted to play quarterback,” Reed recalled. “Alcorn State University gave him the opportunity to play quarterback.”
Reed said he enjoyed seeing McNair grow over the years.
“He was a great person. I remember Steve’s first game. It was Alcorn vs. Grambling in Shreveport,” he recalled. “Steve was not the starting quarterback, but Alcorn was losing. The coach made a change and put Steve in and the rest is history. … Alcorn came back and won the game. The next game Steve got in the starting lineup.”
While McNair was working to make himself known in the football arena, the Seattle Mariners drafted him in the 35th round of the 1991 MLB amateur draft. However, McNair’s love for football won out over his possibilities of becoming a baseball star.
McNair went on to play college football for Alcorn State University, a historically black university which competes in the NCAA’s Division I-AA Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC).
In 1992, McNair, who became known as “Air McNair,” threw for 3,541 yards and 29 touchdowns, and ran in for 10 more scores. The Braves fashioned a record of 7–4, including a last-second victory in their rematch with Grambling. In that contest, McNair returned from an injury and helped Alcorn State move deep into Tigers’ territory. Then, despite a leg injury, he tucked the ball under his arm and dove into the end zone for the winning touchdown. The victory over Grambling helped the Braves qualify for the I-AA playoffs. In 1993, McNair threw for more than 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns. He was also named First-Team All-SWAC for the third year in a row.
In his senior season, McNair gained nearly 6,000 yards rushing and passing, along with 53 touchdowns. In the process, he surpassed more than a dozen records and was named an All-American. In addition, McNair won the Walter Payton Award as the top I-AA player and finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting behind Rashaan Salaam and Ki-Jana Carter. McNair set career records for the Football Championship Series with 14,496 passing yards, as well as the division record for total offensive yards with 16,283 career yards. The records still stand.
“I got to know Steve and the rest of the McNair family over the years,” Reed said. “I met his mother, Ms. Lucille, and his other brothers, Jason and Tim. … They are a great family. … I became very close to not only Steve but the family also.”
Reed said over these past two years, he’s continued to visit with and communicate with the McNair Family.
Reed said Steve McNair continued to amaze him over the years.
“In the 1995 Draft, Steve was drafted by the Houston Oilers and was the third pick, which is the highest pick of a quarterback from Mississippi,” Reed said. “He was just an outstanding person.”
Reed said he spent a lot of time with McNair, who was a member of Omega Phi Psi Fraternity, Inc.
“I enjoyed just hanging out with Steve,” Reed said. “He was a great person who cared about children.”
McNair continued to strive as a professional football player. His first season as the Oilers’ starter in 1997 resulted in an 8–8 record for the team. McNair’s 2,665 passing yards were the most for the Oilers since Warren Moon in 1993, and his 13 interceptions were the fewest for a single season in franchise history. He also led the team in rushing touchdowns with eight and ranked second behind running back Eddie George with 674 yards on the ground, the third-highest total for a quarterback in NFL history.
When the team moved to Tennessee, McNair set career passing highs with 492 attempts, 289 completions, 3,228 yards and 15 touchdowns for the Oilers, now competing in Nashville. He also cut his interceptions to 10, helping his quarterback rating climb to 80.1.
Reed said McNair was a man who cared about others on and off the field.
“Steve was born on Valentine’s Day and died on the Fourth of July,” Reed noted. “He’s a guy that loved others and didn’t mind helping anybody. He was not a flashy guy. If you didn’t know it, you wouldn’t know he was a millionaire. … He was the type of guy that if you needed a dollar, he would give you $5.”
Reed said McNair, the father of four sons, loved to do things with young people.
“He was dedicated to the children and the Boys and Girls Clubs,” Reed added. “He was scheduled to speak at the Boys and Girls Club in Meridian on July 9th, but died just days before.”
Reed said McNair, who did not flash his wealth, cared about others.
“He donated his time and money to the Boys and Girls Clubs,” he said. “He conducted free football camps and softball tournaments. During the time after Hurricane Katrina he sent several 18-wheelers filled with items to the area.
“He cared about people,” Reed added. “I loved Steve McNair and will forever remember the contributions he made to others and the time I shared with him. …I just want to make sure that his legacy lives on.”
Reed, who said he misses being able to pick up the phone and call his friend, said each year on the anniversary of his death, Reed and his family gather at McNair’s home in Mount Olive and spend time with the McNair Family and remember the contributions “Air McNair” made.
By Eloria Newell James, Laurel Leader-Call