NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — An emotional Jeff Fisher says his former quarterback Steve McNair was a "great person" who put the Tennessee Titans' franchise on the NFL map.
The Titans coach Monday called the slain quarterback one of the "greatest competitors of all time on the field." Fisher was the only coach McNair had for the first 11 years of his NFL career, and the coach said McNair's legacy is what he did on the field and in the community.
"The Steve McNair that I knew would want me to say, 'I'm sorry. I'm not perfect. We all make decisions sometimes that are not in the best interests. Please forgive me.' The Steve McNair that I knew would want me to say, 'Celebrate my life for what I did on the field, for what I did in the community, the kind of teammate that I was,'" Fisher said.
"That's what the Steve that I knew would want me to say."
McNair apologized publicly in 2003 hours after being charged with drunk driving when he had a 0.18 blood alcohol content. This time the consequences of his actions were fatal.
McNair was found shot to death Saturday, alongside 20-year-old Sahel Kazemi in Nashville. Police have said McNair, a married father of four, had been dating Kazemi and ruled his death a homicide. A Kazemi relative said she bought a gun a couple days before the shootings.
The Titans coach had been in Iraq as part of an NFL trip last week to visit the military. His cell phone service resumed after the group landed in Kuwait, and Fisher noticed a string of calls had come in when Eddie George called and wound up informing the coach of McNair's death.
George also attended Monday's news conference and said he only called Fisher hoping to learn more information. Fisher last saw McNair when he played at the coach's annual charity softball game on June 20 when the quarterback had his wife, Mechelle, and his sons.
Fisher asked for prayers for McNair's wife and family and said he's still shocked by McNair's death at 36.
"This is hard. This is hard on everybody. This is not an easy thing. There will be a void. Again, I'll fill that void with those memories. That's what we have to do," Fisher said.
Fisher's first full season was in 1995 when the then-Houston Oilers made McNair the No. 3 pick overall in that year's draft. Fisher eased McNair into the lineup slowly, giving him spot duty over his first two seasons before turning the team over to McNair.
Both Fisher, George, and other ex-teammates who attended the news conference tried to focus on the tough player they knew and not the circumstances of his death. Fisher said he hopes McNair will be remembered for the type of player and person he was — and forgiven.
George said he is dealing with the loss of a dear friend.
"I'm not in a position to judge anyone or to be judged. That's up to God. And he was close to me. We came into this organization together. We built something together with Brad (Hopkins), Blaine (Bishop). You talk about the nomadic years, those were tough, led by Jeff Fisher, those were some tough times, and all we had was us," George said.
McNair took over as starting quarterback for the then-Tennessee Oilers in 1997 — their first year in the state after relocation as the team played games that season in Memphis while commuting from Nashville. Another year was played at Vanderbilt University in Nashville before the renamed Titans moved into their new stadium.
"We disappeared going through that process," Fisher said of the team's national identity.
Fisher's fondest memories of McNair include his overtime win over the New York Giants in December 2002, a 71-yard touchdown run against Tampa Bay in 1998 and ignoring a surgically-repaired back by going airborne for a touchdown against Pittsburgh in November 1999.
The coach gave McNair leeway, especially when injured by allowing the quarterback to sit out practice during the week knowing McNair would be there at kickoff. McNair repaid that faith by becoming a four-time Pro Bowler and co-MVP of the NFL in 2003. He led the Titans to their lone Super Bowl appearance in 2000.
Fisher also recalled Monday spotting McNair using a walker with his wife at his side at a local hospital to receive an epidural injection so he could stand up at practice the next day.
"If he could walk, he was going to play," Fisher said.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.
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