NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Former NFL quarterback Steve McNair, who led the famous Tennessee Titans' drive that came one yard short of forcing overtime in the 2000 Super Bowl, was found dead Saturday with multiple gunshot wounds, including one to the head. Police said a pistol was discovered near the body of a woman also shot dead in a downtown condominium.
Nashville police spokesman Don Aaron identified the woman as 20-year-old Sahel Kazemi, whom he called a "friend" of McNair's. She had a single gunshot wound to the head.
Police said the 36-year-old McNair was found on the sofa in the living room, and Kazemi was very close to him on the floor. Aaron said the gun was not "readily apparent" when police first arrived.
Autopsies were planned for Sunday.
Aaron said McNair's wife, Mechelle, is "very distraught."
"At this juncture, we do not believe she is involved," he said. "Nothing has been ruled out, but as far as actively looking for a suspect tonight, the answer would be no."
Fred McNair, Steve McNair's oldest brother, said some family members likely will travel to Nashville on Monday to consult with Steve McNair's wife.
"It's still kind of hard to believe," Fred McNair said. "He was the greatest person in the world. He gave back to the community. He loved kids and he wanted to be a role model to kids."
He said he did not know who Kazemi was.
The bodies were discovered Saturday afternoon by McNair's longtime friend, Wayne Neeley, who said he rents the condo with McNair.
Aaron said Neeley told authorities he went into the condo, saw McNair on the sofa and Kazemi on the floor but walked first into the kitchen before going back into the living room, where he saw the blood.
Neeley then called a friend, who alerted authorities.
Police said a witness saw McNair arrive at the condo in the upscale Rutledge Hill neighborhood between 1:30 and 2 a.m. Saturday and that Kazemi's vehicle was already there. The condominium is located within walking distance of an area filled with restaurants and nightspots, a few blocks from the Cumberland River and within view of the Titans' stadium.
Two days ago, Nashville police arrested Kazemi on a DUI charge while driving a 2007 Escalade registered to her and McNair. McNair was in the front seat, but didn't break the law and was allowed to leave by taxi.
The arrest affidavit said Kazemi had bloodshot eyes and the smell of alcohol on her breath, but refused a breathalyzer test, saying "she was not drunk, she was high."
McNair and his family frequented the restaurant where Kazemi was a waitress, according employees and patrons of Dave & Buster's in Nashville. Keith Norfleet, Kazemi's ex-boyfriend, told The Tennessean newspaper that McNair and Kazemi met at the restaurant.
"She was reliable 90 percent of the time," manager Chris Truelove said of Kazemi. "She was pretty outgoing. A lot of the guests liked being around her, and she liked being around the guests."
Co-worker Shantez Jobe, 33, she said was friends with Kazemi.
"We talked about who had more fashion sense, and who was the cutest, and who could get more boys, you know some of the stuff girls do," Jobe said.
In June, McNair opened a restaurant near the Tennessee State University campus. It was closed Saturday evening, but had become a small memorial, where flowers, candles and notes had been placed outside the door.
On the restaurant's windows were messages: "We will miss you Steve" and "We love you Steve."
A note attached to a small blue teddy bear read, "We will never forget you, Steve. Once a Titan, always a Titan."
"We don't know the details, but it is a terrible tragedy and our hearts go out to the families involved," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement.
McNair, a four-time Pro Bowl selection, led the Titans to the 2000 Super Bowl, which they lost 23-16 to the St. Louis Rams. He was co-MVP of the NFL with Colts quarterback Peyton Manning in 2003. He also played for the Baltimore Ravens before retiring in April 2008.
His most notable moment came in that Super Bowl, when he led the Titans 87 yards in the final minute and 48 seconds, only to come up a yard short of the tying touchdown. Kevin Dyson caught his 9-yard pass, but was tackled at the 1-yard line by the Rams' Mike Jones.
McNair accounted for all of Tennessee's yards in that drive, throwing for 48 yards and rushing for 14. The rest of the yardage came on penalties against the Rams. Before that, he brought the Titans back from a 16-0 deficit to tie the game.
"If you were going to draw a football player, the physical part, the mental part, everything about being a professional, he is your guy," former Ravens and Titans teammate Samari Rolle said. "I can't even wrap my arms around it. It is a sad, sad day. The world lost a great man today."
McNair grew up in rural Mount Olive, Miss., and became a nationally known college football star playing for Alcorn State, a Division I-AA school in his home state. He was so dominant in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, he became a Heisman Trophy contender. National media flocked to little Lorman in the southwest corner of the Magnolia state to get a look at "Air McNair." He still holds the Division I-AA (now known as Football Championship Subdivision) records for career yards passing (14,496) and total offense (16,823).
McNair was the third overall draft pick in 1995 by the Houston Oilers, who eventually became the Titans. He finished his career with 31,304 yards passing and 174 touchdowns. McNair's rugged style led to numerous injuries and aches. He played with pain for several years, and the injuries ultimately forced him to retire.
"On the field, there isn't a player that was as tough as him, especially at the quarterback position," the Ravens' Derrick Mason said. "What I have seen him play through on the field, and what he dealt with during the week to get ready for a game, I have never known a better teammate."
During a five-game stretch at the end of the 2002 season, McNair was so bruised he couldn't practice. But he started all five games and won them, leading the Titans to an 11-5 record and a berth in the AFC championship game for the second time in four seasons.
McNair played all 16 games in 2006, his first season in Baltimore, and guided the Ravens to a 13-3 record. But he injured his groin during the season opener in 2007 and never regained the form that put him in those Pro Bowls.
"I am deeply saddened to learn of today's tragic news regarding the death of Steve McNair. He was a player who I admired a great deal," said New England Patriots senior football adviser Floyd Reese, who was GM of the Titans when McNair played for them. "He was a tremendous leader and an absolute warrior. He felt like it was his responsibility to lead by working hard every day, no matter what."
Titans coach Jeff Fisher was out of the country, taking part in the first NFL-USO coaches tour to Iraq.
Ozzie Newsome, Ravens executive vice president and general manager, said he immediately thought of McNair's four sons.
"This is so, so sad. We immediately think of his family, his boys. They are all in our thoughts and prayers," he said "What we admired most about Steve when we played against him was his competitive spirit, and we were lucky enough to have that with us for two years. He is one of the best players in the NFL over the last 20 years."
No funeral arrangements have been made.
Associated Press Writer Emily Wagster Pettus in Mount Olive, Miss., AP Writers Randall Paul Dickerson and Lucas L. Johnson II in Nashville, Tenn., and AP Sports Writer Teresa Walker in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., contributed to this report.
Titans remember McNair for toughness, leadership
When the Houston Oilers fled Texas for Tennessee more than a decade ago, the franchise needed a face to sell the NFL in a place where college football ruled for decades.
They found it in Steve McNair.
The talented, if somewhat unconventional, quarterback gave the rebuilding team a foundation to build on. He also helped turn the renamed Titans into one of the AFC's most consistent winners during his tenure, a team built more on grit and toughness than eye-popping stats.
The image of McNair picking himself up off the turf and trotting - slowly sometimes - back to the huddle became a weekly fixture at Titans games, where his fearless play made him an icon in the tight-knit community.
It's what made his death all the more shocking to his former teammates. McNair, 36, was found dead in a Nashville, Tenn., condominium Saturday with a gunshot wound to the head.
"It's kind of like disbelief, like somebody was playing a cruel April Fools' joke," former Tennessee wide receiver Kevin Dyson said. "It's just so surreal."
Shock gave way to appreciation for the way McNair played during his 11 seasons with the franchise, leading Tennessee to the 2000 Super Bowl while evolving into one of the league's most effective - if not always the flashiest - quarterbacks.
McNair threw for over 31,000 yards during his career - including 27,141 with the Titans - and made the Pro Bowl four times, yet his trademark wasn't his sometimes shaky spiral but the way he played, more like a linebacker than a quarterback.
All that physical play came with a price. Not that McNair complained.
No matter how many times he was bounced around, no matter how vicious the beating, he never broke, never placed blame. That simply wasn't his style.
"He was so cool under pressure, so calm," former Tennessee running back Eddie George told ESPN. "He never raised his voice, never lost his composure. Obviously, he had moments when he was disappointed, but he has such a short memory that you really couldn't tell what Steve was thinking a lot of the time. He was never affected by a bad play. He was just the ultimate leader."
The Titans needed that kind of leadership after making the move from Houston following the 1996 season. He guided the team through the sometimes rocky transition, becoming the unquestioned leader of a franchise in desperate need of an identity.
"His worth and what he meant to us as players, it's almost immeasurable," former Tennessee offensive tackle Brad Hopkins said. "He is recognized at Titans football and always will be. With this club and even the players you see today on the team, it all started with his group and it started with him."
McNair steadily grew into one of the league's most effective playmakers, using his feet as much as his arm to put opposing defenses on their heels. McNair didn't have the speed of Michael Vick or the accuracy of Donovan McNabb, but his bruising, physical style won over teammates and opponents alike. McNair rushed for 3,590 yards and 37 touchdowns during his career.
"He started that mold as a two-way kind of guy, a tough guy that would do whatever it takes to win and was as hard to bring down as a fullback," former Titans tight end Frank Wychek said. "I think he had the respect of everyone who ever suited up with him and anyone who played against him."
McNair retired after ending his career with the Baltimore Ravens following the 2007 season, but his legacy will forever be linked to the Titans. He was inducted into the Oilers/Titans Hall of Fame and the Ring of Honor at LP Field last year.
While some stars have trouble stepping away from the game, McNair seemed at peace with his decision to retire. Dyson, who came up 1 yard short of the tying touchdown on the final play of the 2000 Super Bowl against the St. Louis Rams, ran into McNair recently and said they never talked about football.
"He just wanted to go fishing, go hunting, see his kids," Dyson said. "He was thoroughly enjoying that, to not have the pressure of being the icon of the town. He just wanted to live his life and help give back."
That selflessness is what helped McNair earn the admiration of his teammates. Of all the plays he made during his career, the lasting memory George has of McNair are the moments before kickoff when he would go up to each teammate and tell them how much they were appreciated.
"We would be together before every game inside the tunnel, shaking everybody's hand, every player, every coach, every trainer, everybody that was part of the Titans' family," George said. "As we were going out and as we finished, we would stop and look at each other and say ‘I love you.'
"That was kind of the completion. That was it, that we were going out to war."
-- Will Graves
Ravens fondly remember McNair as leader and friend
BALTIMORE - Steve McNair played only two seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, yet the courage, determination and leadership he displayed during that time made a lasting impression on those within the organization.
McNair was shot and killed in Tennessee on Saturday. The news stunned some of his former teammates, who remembered the quarterback as a warrior on the football field and a friend in the locker room.
Ravens defensive back Samari Rolle, who played with McNair in Tennessee and Baltimore, said, "If you were going to draw a football player, the physical part, the mental part, everything about being a professional, he is your guy. It is a sad, sad day. The world lost a great man today."
McNair broke into the NFL with the Houston Oilers, who moved to Tennessee in 1997 and ultimately became the Tennessee Titans. McNair took the Titans to the 2000 Super Bowl, but by the end of the 2005 season, he sensed his time in Tennessee had run its course.
He asked his agent to work out a deal with the Ravens, and in June 2006, Tennessee traded McNair to Baltimore for a fourth-round pick in the 2007 draft.
"This is so, so sad," said Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, who worked the trade with Tennessee. "What we admired most about Steve when we played against him was his competitive spirit, and we were lucky enough to have that with us for two years. He is one of the best players in the NFL over the last 20 years."
McNair played through a myriad of injuries with both the Titans and Ravens, but never lost the desire to win or love for the game.
"Steve was such a happy person," said Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason, who, like Rolle, played with McNair in Tennessee and Baltimore. "He was always smiling and was always willing to lend a hand to anyone who needed it. I've known him for 13 years, and he was the most selfless, happiest and friendliest person I have known.
"It is a devastating day. Steve will always have a place in my heart."
In his first season with Baltimore, McNair started all 16 games and led Baltimore to a 13-3 record and the AFC North title. But in his lone playoff game with the Ravens, he failed to produce a touchdown in a 15-6 loss to Indianapolis.
The following season, McNair was limited to only six games because of injuries. Baltimore went 2-4 in those games; McNair fumbled eight times, threw four interceptions and only two touchdown passes.
McNair wanted desperately to contribute, but his aching body wouldn't allow it.
"On the field, there isn't player that was as tough as him, especially at the quarterback position," Mason said. "What I have seen him play through on the field, and what he dealt with during the week to get ready for a game, I have never known a better teammate."
McNair retired in April 2008 with one year left on his contract with the Ravens.
"My mind was there. Mentally, I could go out and play," McNair said at an emotional news conference. "But physically, I couldn't do it anymore. Not to the capacity that I need to help my teammates win a football game."
That was McNair. It wasn't about putting up numbers, but about winning. Period.
"He was a great player," Newsome said, "one of the toughest of competitors, and a tremendous teammate, who was a leader on the field and in the locker room, especially to the young players."
-- David Ginsburg
McNair brought big-time football to Alcorn St.
Steve McNair came off the bench in the first game of his freshman season and rallied Alcorn State to a victory against Grambling State.
So began one of the great careers in the history of college football.
McNair, who was shot and killed Saturday in Nashville, brought big-time football to Lorman, Miss. He attended Alcorn State, about a 2½-hour drive from his hometown of Mount Olive, because he wanted to play quarterback instead of defensive back. That's where the marquee programs wanted him to play.
Alcorn State coach Cardell Jones was happy to bring a talent such as McNair into the Southwestern Athletic Conference. The plan was to ease McNair in to college football.
McNair had other plans.
"I was going to try to work him in slowly in preseason practice," the now-retired Jones said in telephone interview with the AP from his home in Raymond, Miss., on Saturday night. "I finally put him in a scrimmage and he was fantastic. He went 9 for 9 (passing) and drove the team to a touchdown."
Jones didn't start McNair in the first game of the season against Grambling State in 1991. But with the Braves down, McNair got his chance and the youngster delivered like a veteran, throwing three touchdown passes in a 27-22 victory.
"He was mature at a very young age," Jones said. "I put Steve into the football game, he was very poised and took the team down to score the winning touchdown."
McNair took over the starting job and didn't relinquish it until he was done rewriting the NCAA record book, making a run at the Heisman Trophy, and turning an historically black school in rural Mississippi into a college football hotbed.
Fans, black and white, made their way to watch "Air McNair" run with power and speed and fire footballs all over the field. NFL scouts came in droves. The television cameras followed.
"That was great and he really took our program to another level," Jones recalled. "I think we were on TV seven times."
Despite all the attention, including a cover story in Sports Illustrated, McNair stayed humble, Jones said.
"He did a great job. He didn't let that change him one iota. He kept his feet on the ground," Jones said. "He was truly a team player and, because of that, all of the players really loved him. They knew he would sacrifice and do the type of things thing to make the team successful."
In 1994, McNair had 5,799 total yards in 11 games, still a Division I-AA (now known as Football Championship Subdivision) record. He finished third in the Heisman Trophy balloting behind Colorado running back Rashaan Salaam and Penn State running back Ki-Jana Carter.
He ended his career with 16,823 total yards, another record that still stands. He threw 119 touchdown passes.
"Coaching Steve was definitely the highlight of my coaching career," said the 65-year-old Jones. "He's the type ballplayer who comes along once in lifetime."
-- Ralph D. Russo
Steve McNair Quote Box
Comments on the death of former NFL quarterback Steve McNair on Saturday:
"He was one of the finest players to play for our organization and one of the most beloved players by our fans. He played with unquestioned heart and leadership and led us to places that we had never reached, including our only Super Bowl." -Titans owner Bud Adams.
"This is so, so sad. What we admired most about Steve when we played against him was his competitive spirit, and we were lucky enough to have that with us for two years. He is one of the best players in the NFL over the last 20 years." -Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome.
"There wasn't a tougher quarterback out there. I've seen him take his shots, pull himself up off the ground and get back up in the huddle and not say a word." -Former Tennessee wide receiver Kevin Dyson.
"He was a tremendous leader and an absolute warrior. He felt like it was his responsibility to lead by working hard every day, no matter what. I don't think there was a player who played with him or against him that didn't look up to him and respect him." -New England Patriots senior football adviser Floyd Reese, who was GM of the Titans when McNair played there.
"Steve McNair was one of the greatest competitors I've ever played against. I'll always remember playing against him. Many of our defensive players always talked about what a huge challenge it was having to play against him. He and I had some great battles against each other." -Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who shared the 2003 MVP award with McNair.
"Steve was special and as tough and competitive of a guy that I have ever been around. As soon as we got him in Baltimore, he gave our team instant confidence and I was fortunate to be around him for two seasons. As great of a player as he was, it was more of an honor to know him as a person. My heart and prayers go out to his family." -Jets coach Rex Ryan, Baltimore's defensive coordinator during McNair's two seasons with the Ravens.
"I am in utter disbelief. Steve always came to work with a smile and a joy about him. I remember him as a dad that brought his kids to the facility and we all embraced them as our own. Not only will Steve's family miss him, but the entire NFL family has lost a brother. His death was far too early and my thoughts and prayers are with his family." -Jets linebacker Bart Scott, McNair's teammate in Baltimore for two seasons.
"It's bad that stuff happens like that, and it's just disappointing, especially when it's a member of your club. It's real hard to lose somebody as it is. It just makes you appreciate the people you have." -Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Kellen Winslow.
"I'm speechless. ... He was always ‘Air McNair' to me." -Orlando Magic guard Vince Carter.
"I am saddened and shocked by the sudden passing of Steve McNair. During McNair's career in the SWAC and the NFL he was a fierce competitor. McNair's collegiate career was one of the greatest in NCAA history and he will always be remembered for the tenacity and toughness that he displayed. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family." -Southwestern Athletic Conference commissioner Duer Sharp.
"He would come into the restaurant and eat and talk to customers just like anyone else. You would not know he was a star. This hurts so very, very much. Our community is going to miss him." -Tennessee Sen. Thelma Harper, D-Nashville, a friend of McNair's who owns a restaurant near the one he recently opened.
"It's a bit of a shock. I'm a big Titans fan. I'm a big McNair fan. I can't imagine why anyone would want to do this. He's such a standup guy -he does so much work for the community, he has done so much for the city. I know we tend to idolize athletes but I always thought McNair was one of the few that was worthy of the adulation." -Ken Schrupp, resident of the Nashville neighborhood where McNair's body was found.
"Steve was such a happy person. He was always smiling and was always willing to lend a hand to anyone who needed it. I've known him for 13 years, and he was the most selfless, happiest and friendliest person I have known. It is a devastating day. Steve will always have a place in my heart." -Wide receiver Derrick Mason, who played with McNair in Tennessee and Baltimore.