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Last year was ugly. Once an elite team, the Tennessee Titans limped their way to a 7-9 record and a third-place finish in their division. The wheels came off -- guys were hurt on both sides of the ball, and the team lost its way early and often.
Through it all, like a strong-armed hero in a Chip Hilton story, Steve McNair stood tall in the pocket, putting up the best numbers of his career (3,350 passing yards, 21 touchdowns). But like any strong leader, McNair will tell you those numbers don't mean snot; it's Ws that matter. And this season he and the T-men figure they're ripe for a comeback -- Eddie George is healthy, Kevin Dyson is back, and McNair is solid as ever and ready to mix it up.
How do we know? We sent Eric Neel to hit him with 10 Burning Questions, of course. How did he do? Quality reads, smart audibles and scrambles for positive yardage -- he looks ready for opening day.
Steve McNair: It wasn't stressful, it was scary, but everything worked out. We landed in Chicago, changed planes, and made it home about 5:30 Saturday morning.
Do you take anything with you on the road to help you stay calm and cool? Do you read or listen to music?
McNair: We play card games. I'm mainly not into listening to music. Mostly I'm just relaxing, playing cards, trying to get myself ready.
Are there things you have to do before every game? Any superstitions or rituals?
McNair: I've gotta take a nap before every game. One hour. I'm in the office where the doctors work. I lay on one of those tables and get quiet.
2. Last year was a rough one for the Titans. Is there pressure on you to bounce back this year? How is the team dealing with it?
McNair: We're excited about this season because of the season we had last year. Injuries played a big part last year. Good things are gonna happen this year. We've just got to stay healthy. We had to patch up a lot of holes last year.
McNair: Right now, it's Philadelphia. Next week, it will be Dallas. I don't try to get up for one game or the other, I try to be focused and ready for every game, week in and week out.
3. If you could choose any two wide receivers, from any moment in NFL history, who you would most like to play with, who would they be?
McNair: I'll say Lynn Swann and Jerry Rice.
How about if you could sit down with any quarterback in NFL history and pick his brain, who would it be?
McNair: Whooo, that's a hard one. Probably Joe Montana, or Terry Bradshaw. Terry Bradshaw would be first. I'd want to know how it felt to play with the guys he had, so talented at every position. How did he keep that multitalented group focused and working together?
McNair: I like all the keepers. All the keepers. When they let me do what I'm capable of doing, and also give my receivers a chance to work themselves open, I like that.
5. Tell me something that is in your locker right now that would surprise people.
McNair: Uh, probably right now, it's a doll made of me from when I was in college. I have my purple and gold Alcorn State uniform on and actually everything is to a T ... it looks just exactly like me. I keep it there because it reminds me now when I come to work to have fun, like I did in college, and not take it so seriously and business-oriented.
6. I understand that your nickname is Monk, because when you were a kid your mom said you could climb trees like a monkey. Who calls you Monk now?
McNair: Just my immediate family and nobody outside.
McNair: They call me Air, they call me Mac, they call me Nine. I have two or three of 'em.
7. Who is the one defensive lineman you most hate to see on the other side of the ball?
McNair: Warren Sapp. He's the one guy you have to fear.
Is it true? Does he talk a lot?
McNair: Oh yeah, he's gonna talk. No doubt.
Who is the one defensive back you most hate to go against?
McNair: I love competition and I love to go against the best, but the one that really bugs me is Corey Fuller from Cleveland. He talks before the game, during the game, and if he picks me off, he's gonna talk forever.
McNair: Actually, it would have to be my older brother. We have the same walk, the same shape and everything.
9. What is your greatest strength as a player?
McNair: Being able to use my instincts. I know when to scramble, know how to get away. I can make things happen on the run.
What's your biggest weakness?
McNair: When I make a bad play, I tend to let one play affect me in the next two or three plays. Interceptions -- I hate them with a passion to where I let it bother me into the next series. I can't do that. I have to get better at that.
10. If you weren't playing football, if your career ended tomorrow, what would you do with your life?
McNair: I'd live in Mississippi on my ranch, relax. And I'd probably do some coaching on the high school level. That's what I'd truly like to do once I'm done.