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11-23-2006, 06:07 AM
McNair's will to inspire

By Scott Brown
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Thursday, November 23, 2006


The onetime Steelers nemesis and current Baltimore Ravens quarterback has recently put the air back in McNair.
But Steve McNair's value can't be measured by sheer numbers -- even ones good enough to give him a sparkling passer rating of 95.7 over the last four games.

As Steeler coach Bill Cowher said, "He's a guy that gets on the field and inspires the people around him."

The Ravens have even more reason to follow McNair's lead Sunday when they host the Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium.

The veteran quarterback has beaten the Steelers in nine of 13 games he has started against them. Black-and-gold fans surely recall how he almost single-handedly ushered Cowher's team out of the postseason by throwing for 334 yards and accounting for three touchdowns in an AFC divisional playoff game.

A lot has change since then, including teams in McNair's case.

McNair was not so long ago the face of the Tennessee Titans, but he and the franchise went through a messy divorce during the offseason.

McNair's health concerns and encroaching age prompted the Titans to take quarterback Vince Young with the third overall pick in last April's trade and ship the NFL's 2003 co-MVP to the Ravens.

"I feel pretty good about the situation I'm in now," said McNair, who had been with the Titans/Houston Oilers since the franchise took him with the third pick of the 1995 draft. "Change is good."

Baltimore couldn't have been a better fit for McNair.

And vice versa.

The Ravens defense was good enough for the team to win a Super Bowl (2000 season) with Trent Dilfer, but shortcomings at quarterback contributed mightily to Baltimore's recent struggles and last year's 6-10 record.

"(McNair) has provided a presence at the quarterback position that this organization has not had since its inception," Ravens coach Brian Billick said.

McNair, 33, is not the only reason why the Ravens are one of the most improved teams in the NFL, or is he?

"He's black Jesus," said Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward, who is questionable for the 1 p.m. game with a hyperextended knee. "He's a great quarterback. He does wonders for their team."

McNair has led the Ravens to several come-from-behind wins this season, including a 16-13 victory over San Diego.

His numbers aren't spectacular -- McNair has 10 touchdown passes and nine interceptions and a middling passer rating of 78.1 -- but, as Ward put in his unique way, McNair is a leader.

And that can't be quantified.

"It's all about how confident you feel," Steelers outside linebacker Joey Porter said, "and I know they feel confident with McNair."

McNair's past success against the Steelers should make them even more confident for Sunday's game.

From 1997-2000, McNair led the Titans to seven consecutive wins over the Steelers (the two were in the same division during that time). In 2003, he completed 15-of-16 passes for 161 yards and three touchdowns at Heinz Field, leading the visiting Titans to an easy 30-13 win over the Steelers.

His success against the Steelers can perhaps be traced to what makes him a great competitor and one who has the "utmost respect" of Cowher.

"Good teams bring out the best in you," McNair said of the Steelers, "and that's what I think they've done in my career."


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