<
>

Bruised sternum never fully healed

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair will
miss the final three games of the season and undergo surgery to
strengthen the bruised sternum that has plagued him most of the
year.

Coach Jeff Fisher said they reached the decision Friday morning.

Fisher said a chief consideration is that McNair, the NFL's
co-MVP last season, will need the surgery even if he never plays
football again to fix the damage caused by three injuries to his
sternum.

"Basically, Steve does not have a solid bony surface throughout
the length of his sternum," Fisher said.

"There's an area in there that's cartilage. It's not normal. He
was born that way. And because of this area that's simply
cartilage, when Steve suffered the first injury back in 2000, the
sternum itself moved, creating a lot of pain and a lot of
discomfort."

McNair recovered fairly quickly from that injury, taking off a
bye week, then not starting the next game in September 2000. But he
came off the bench and pulled out a victory at Pittsburgh and
didn't have pain from the injury after that season.

But he bruised his sternum Sept. 26, an injury that put him in
the hospital for two nights. He has aggravated the injury twice
more, causing him to miss five games and parts of two others this
season for the struggling Titans (4-9).

McNair talked to reporters Friday for the first time since Dec.
1, when he refused to back off comments that he would consider
quitting football in the offseason.

"It's always critical when you've got to go through surgery
during the course of the season and work through it during the
offseason," McNair said.

But McNair, who turns 32 on Feb. 14, concluded it was better to
have the surgery before the end of the season considering the
season he has had. The man who led the NFL in passer rating in 2003
doesn't even lead the Titans, and he has more interceptions (nine)
than touchdown passes (seven).

"It's something (the injuries) I've been dealing with for 10
years, I think I can deal with this one," McNair said.

McNair said he wants "to be able to come back and play with
this team again."

News that McNair will have surgery surprised some of his
teammates.

"It's Steve McNair's team," receiver Drew Bennett said. "It's
hard to imagine him not here. I don't think that's going to be the
case. He's definitely got a lot of good football left in him. We'll
have to see."

McNair will accompany the Titans to Oakland for Sunday's game
against the Raiders (4-9). This decision means backup Billy Volek
will start his sixth game this season.

Volek signed a five-year contract in March because he knew he
would have the chance to play more because of McNair's history with
injuries. He refused to talk about his conversations with McNair
and the veteran's future plans.

"Hopefully, he'll get healed up quickly, and this will help his
process determining if he's going to come back next year or
retire," Volek said. "He's tired of being banged up. He's been
saying that the past few years."

Fisher said the surgery, which will take place before the season
ends Jan. 2, will take bone from McNair's hip and graft it to his
sternum to encourage bone growth there.

Doctors expect McNair to recover fairly quickly, and Fisher said
he could be lifting weights and doing conditioning work about six
weeks after the surgery.