McNair's 'kinship' with Favre continues into retirement

Steve McNair (l-r) entered the league from Alcorn State, learned the pro game as a Houston Oiler, matured into a Pro Bowl, Super Bowl and MVP passer as a Tennessee Titan and finished his career as a Baltimore Raven. Getty Images, US Presswire

Sometimes the football gods align the stars just right.

On Thursday Baltimore Ravens quarterback Steve McNair announced his retirement, about six weeks after Brett Favre did the same in a tearful ceremony in Green Bay. Their exits signify two more departures from a generation of tough-guy quarterbacks.

McNair and Favre are forever associated with each other because they were cut from the same cloth.

Both grew up in Mississippi: Favre was born in Gulfport, and McNair was raised in Mt. Olive.

Both played for under-the-radar collegiate programs: Favre was a Southern Mississippi product; McNair a star at Alcorn State.

Both won MVP awards and led their teams to Super Bowls.

And both will be eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2013.

Favre is a lock for Canton, but McNair's candidacy will be a subject of debate in the coming years. What is not debatable is his high place among contemporary quarterbacks of his era.

McNair threw for 31,304 yards in 13 seasons and came about a yard shy of possibly leading the Tennessee Titans to a Super Bowl victory over the St. Louis Rams after the 1999 season. He was the second black quarterback to start in a Super Bowl, after former Washington Redskin Doug Williams.

McNair also has more career passing yards than Terry Bradshaw (27,989), Joe Namath (27,663) and George Blanda (26,920). Fewer injuries and a championship ring certainly would have helped, but it will be McNair's toughness as a quarterback that will define his legacy.

McNair was a modern-day Billy Kilmer, today's Y.A. Tittle. More importantly, he was the AFC's version of Favre.

How many weeks did both quarterbacks appear bedridden on Fridays only to perform well on Sundays? Favre's NFL record 253 consecutive starts and playing in the football mecca of Green Bay likely made it easy to overlook McNair's gutsiness.

McNair's bursts of greatness on the field also were overshadowed by other great quarterbacks of his era, such as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. In fact, McNair shared his only MVP award with Manning in 2003. Still, McNair should not be a victim of circumstance when looking back at his history. His accomplishments should not be ignored.

McNair stepped down at the right time, both for himself and the Ravens. He was injured and ineffective in just six starts last year, leaving the organization in flux at the quarterback position.

Baltimore was interested in quarterback prospects even before McNair retired Thursday, and that urgency to find a signal-caller in next week's NFL draft is now heightened. Boston College prospect Matt Ryan has been on the team's radar; the Ravens have the No. 8 overall pick in the draft. The Ravens also met with former Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm, a possible second-round pick.

Currently Kyle Boller is the top quarterback on Baltimore's depth chart. In five seasons, Boller has been unable to perform consistently in the NFL, but McNair's exit today opens the door for Boller, first-year head coach John Harbaugh, and the entire Ravens organization to have a fresh start.

James Walker covers the NFL for ESPN.com.