Tennessee Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk announced today that Steve McNair and Eddie George, two of the most iconic players in franchise history, will have their jerseys retired during the September 15th home opener against the Indianapolis Colts.
And while the two weren’t drafted together, nor did they retire as Titans together, it is only fitting that they receive this honor together….because their strengths and weaknesses complimented each other to the tune of the best sustained run of success the Titans ever had.
When Steve McNair took over as the starting quarterback for the Tennessee Oilers in 1997, he had the reigning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year behind him in Eddie George.
With George as the centerpiece and focal point of the offense, it allowed McNair to be brought along slowly as a passer. He was able to be spoon-fed the complexities of an NFL playbook while George (one of the best backs in the league for a five year stretch) did most of the heavy lifting on offense.
Tennessee was successful with this blueprint, winning multiple playoff games and leading the franchise to their first (and only) Super Bowl appearance. His two rushing touchdowns nearly led the team to victory in one of the most thrilling Super Bowl endings of all time.
But for George, it came at a price.
The bruising back’s punishing style of running over the years caught up to him as the accumulation of hits started to chip away at his body. And by 2001 it was now visible. George posted career lows in yards and yards per carry.
It was the first season of his career in which he did not eclipse 1,000 yards rushing.
Ironically enough, as George was having his worst season as a pro, McNair was ascending into the rarefied air of the league’s most prolific passers.
Once sheltered from the playbook, Steve transformed himself into Air McNair….posting career highs in completions, passing yards, passing touchdowns, and quarterback rating in 2001.
For good measure, he also chipped in and helped George in the running game, tying him for the team lead in rushing touchdowns. McNair was voted to his first Pro Bowl that season.
By 2003, George’s last season in Tennessee, the roles were completely reversed. McNair’s arm was now the centerpiece and focal point of the offense while George played the complimentary role.
McNair earned league MVP honors that season, and the playoff train kept rolling with the new conductor.
McNair and George sacrificed their bodies for the game they loved, and the team’s continued success had everything to do with one passing the baton to the other.
Without George’s productivity in the transition years from Oilers to Titans, and McNair’s productivity at the end of the run, there is no fairy tale love affair between a team needing a home and a city needing a team.
They were both instrumental in each other’s success, and their team’s success during that magical six year run.
And for that, they deserve to be honored forever, together.