(This story originally ran on November 3, 2017. It's been posted again since Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk announced today the team plans to retire McNair's No.9 jersey).
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – As a young boy, Tyler McNair sat in the stands at Nissan Stadium and cheered on his famous father.
He’ll never forget the sounds of the crowd, and the feeling he had back then.
“I remember just feeling like I was at home, because everyone was cheering for my dad,” he said. “I just felt really loved in the stadium, because everyone loved my dad.”
Watching his father, Titans quarterback Steve McNair, play the game isn’t what stands out most in the mind of Tyler McNair, however.
What happened afterward is what he remembers most about game days.
“The game, yeah, it was fun. But at that point it wasn’t really important to me,” McNair said. “To me, it was about getting picked up at the end of the game by my dad, and him taking me into the locker room – that was the most exciting part to me. It felt like I was a little celebrity, and I was so happy because I was with my dad, behind the scenes in the locker room, at the press conferences. I watched everything my dad did through the whole process, and I’ll never forget it. I have so many good memories.”
On Sunday, Tyler McNair and his little brother Trent will serve as the Honorary 12th Titans before the team’s game against the Baltimore Ravens.
Now a freshman at New York University, Tyler McNair said this year’s moment will feel different for him compared to the last time he was recognized by the organization as a 12th Titan.
It wasn’t too long after his father’s death back then.
“It was exciting, but I was still in sad stage because it brought back memories of my dad, and how I wanted him to be there,” Tyler McNair said. “Now I’m able to look at the brighter side and bigger picture. I see everything that my dad has done for the Titans community and the Nashville community in general. The way they have embraced my family and me, by wanting us to come back, is really special and amazing. Giving my brother and I a chance to walk in my dad’s footsteps for a minute, and honor him is an incredible feeling.
“It is hard to compare me being there to him being there, but for them to do that, it is really special and close to my heart.”
Steve McNair played from 1995-2005 with the Oilers/Titans before playing his final two NFL seasons with the Baltimore Ravens. McNair finished his career with 31,304 yards passing and 174 touchdowns. McNair ran for 3,590 more yards, and 37 touchdowns. He guided the Titans to the organization’s only Super Bowl appearance, Super Bowl XXXIV in Atlanta at the end of the 1999 season. McNair retired in April 2008.
He died on July 4, 2009.
Tyler McNair still misses his father, but when he thinks of him, he recalls good moments.
He remembers holding his dad’s hand, and walking across the field. He remembers the way his dad treated his mom, and his little brother. He remembers the way he treated strangers who approached him.
“He always included me and my brother and my mom, and wanted everything to be best for us. Those are some of the best memories, and I remember them vividly,” Tyler said. “I think that is why I have become such a loving person myself, because he was inclusive with everything he did. Those memories are really special.”
Tyler McNair remembers his dad’s teammates.
“Definitely Zach Piller,” Tyler, laughing, said of the former Titans offensive lineman. “He used to joke with us, and he still calls and checks on me. Eddie George, Brad Hopkins, Derrick Mason – they were all so good to us. A lot of them, friends of my dad’s, had kids around my age, so we used to play around, and eat together after games.”
Hardly a week goes by when he’s not reminded of how his father impacted those in the community.
“I felt like he just did so much,” Tyler McNair said. “He was such a giving person. He taught us to love everybody around us, and to give the best you that you can possibly give. I know he shaped my mindset, not to give up. But he also taught me how to be caring.”
Tyler McNair, who received an academic scholarship at NYU for biology, took a break from his studies on Thursday to talk about his father.
Last year, Tyler McNair gave a moving tribute on the night his father was inducted posthumously into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame, but he previously hadn’t spoken publicly about his father.
Already, he’s imagined what it’s going to feel like when he runs out of the same tunnel his father did so many times during his playing career, his brother by his side. Each home game at midfield, the 12th Titan plants a sword into the ground before kickoff. This Sunday’s game will also be Titans Homecoming, so many of Steve McNair’s teammates will be recognized as well.
“I think it is going to be really fun,” he said. “I am really excited to go back. I haven’t been back in the stadium in a long time, so I feel like it will be a rejuvenating experience, to sit where we used to sit and be back in the crowd.”
He’ll think of his dad, of course.
But he said it will bring a smile to his face.
“My dad will definitely be on my mind, but I know his spirit will be there, and it will be a positive outlook,” Tyler said. “I know he’ll be smiling down from heaven, because he’ll be so excited to see us do that.”
TitansOnline.com reflects on special moments with Steve McNair and his family with the Titans. (Donn Jones Photography.com)