HENDERSONVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – When Steve McNair led the Tennessee Titans to a Super Bowl berth in January 2000, Hendersonville High School quarterback Elijah Howell was seven-years-old.
“He was my idol. I had his number, nine, I had the posters, the jersey, everything. He was my idol,” recalled Howell Monday as he and his teammates reported back for conditioning workouts.
Others echoed Howell’s thoughts; as heroes go, McNair was one of their first.
“I was young. I remember watching [Super Bowl XXXIV] with my dad. Watching him made me feel like I wanted to play football. He was kind of my role model,” said 17-year-old Commando tight end James Gillen. “First, when I heard the news, I was like, ‘There’s no way. I thought he was an invincible kind of guy.'”
Hendersonville High Head Coach Bruce Hatfield says he hasn’t talked much about McNair’s death in the short time he’s been back with the players but said he probably will.
McNair’s toughness will be one thing he mentions.
“That’s something all coaches deal with these days, trying to get some of that mental and physical toughness across to their players and he certainly did that,” Hatfield said.
While McNair was looked at as a hero, a role model and an icon or legend to many if not all high school football players, senior Austin Clem said the circumstances surrounding his death taints how he will remember No. 9.
“I always thought he was a great guy,” he said. “I’ve heard he was a good person and he had two kids [McNair has 4 boys]. So he dropped in my book when I heard he was cheating on his wife. I couldn’t believe it. So he dropped some on my scale.”
Hatfield said coaches may have to answer some of those questions too.
“I imagine coaches are going to say he was a great player, very tragic how he went out, and talk about making good decisions and putting yourself in the right place,” Hatfield said.
McNair and 20-year-old Sahel Kazemi were found slain Saturday afternoon in downtown Nashville.
McNair’s death has been ruled a homicide.