Former NFL quarterback McNair killed in Tennessee
July 5, 2009
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Former NFL quarterback Steve McNair, who led the famous Tennessee Titans’ drive that came a 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.”
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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 to 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.