Nearly 5,000 turned out Saturday to say goodbye to 36-year-old NFL star Steve McNair, who was shot and killed on the Fourth of July by a girlfriend who then turned the gun on herself.
Titans quarterback Vince Young didn’t expect to speak during his mentor’s funeral. He wound up summing up the emotional day with just a few words.
“Steve was like a hero to me, and heroes are not supposed to die,” Young said before stopping to rub his eyes as he talked about the man he knew from football camps as a teenager and called “Pops” — Steve McNair, his predecessor with the Titans.
Fans and old friends filed into the Reed Green Coliseum on the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi, and McNair’s family rented buses to haul in people from his hometown of Mount Olive. Not far away sat men who competed against McNair or coached him on the field.
The high school football team McNair’s son plays on wore their jerseys in honor of the man they often saw smiling from the sidelines.
“Mississippi has lost a tremendous legend,” said Cardell Jones, McNair’s college coach at Alcorn State.
Police escorted McNair’s wife, Mechelle, and his mother, Lucille, into the stadium beforehand. Near the end, a handful of people surrounded his mother and his sons, waving them with fans and programs and giving hugs.
Brett Favre, who had a home near McNair’s here in Hattiesburg, sat a few rows behind the McNair family but did not speak. Titans coach Jeff Fisher, Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis and Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler attended. Doug Williams, the first black quarterback to win the Super Bowl, also was on hand.
The program included memories from McNair’s mother, his wife and sons, brothers, and nieces and nephews. Photos were also displayed of the quarterback who played 13 NFL seasons with Tennessee and Baltimore before retiring in 2008.