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Sports

McNair keeping low profile as league's co-MVP

| Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2004

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Winning an MVP award usually translates into commercials, magazine covers and appearances on the front of cereal boxes.

Not for Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair.

Oh, McNair has had offers since sharing the NFL's 2003 prize with Peyton Manning. It's just that he prefers staying out of the spotlight and enjoying the quiet life with his family on his 643-acre Mississippi ranch when he's not on a football field trying to improve.

"I'm about trying to win the Super Bowl," McNair said.

No one knows that better than his teammates. Receiver Derrick Mason, who has caught more touchdown passes from the quarterback than anyone else, said McNair could have stocked up on endorsements as the No. 3 pick overall in 1995.

"He could have been a poster boy for Nike," Mason said. "That's not him. He doesn't want to put himself out there like that. He likes to come in the locker room, have fun with the guys, do his job and go back home. That's him.

"There's not too many people in the NFL like him. A lot of people, especially coming off a season like he had, wants to be in every magazine, wants to be on the box of Wheaties, wants to be everything. He's content with what he has as far as material things. He's happy. He's been blessed, and I think that's the way he looks at it."

McNair led the NFL with a 100.4 passer rating and was the AFC's Pro Bowl starter. He threw for 3,215 yards with a career-high 24 touchdowns and career-low seven interceptions in just 14 games.

But he knows defenses will be looking to shut him down this season.

"There's lots of bragging rights for a lot of people. I don't look at it that way," he said. "I go out and perform good things, good things will happen. I do bad things and bad things happen. I just have to learn from it."

McNair is healed from February surgery to remove a cracked bone spur from his left ankle. The injury caused him to miss two games last season and left him hobbling at the end of the 17-14 playoff loss at New England.

A bigger concern is the loss of teammates Frank Wycheck and Eddie George, his longtime tight end and running back. With those two gone, the 31-year-old McNair and left tackle Brad Hopkins are the only Titans who played in Houston as Oilers.

The toughest player to replace will be George, McNair's friend and teammate the past eight years. They made up 83 percent of the team's offense during that time, but George was released last month after refusing a pay cut.

"To have him play for another team is something strange, but it's something we've got to get used to," McNair said. "It's business. It's all said and done. Eddie's moved on, and we have to move on."

McNair, who is just a victory away from matching Warren Moon for career victories (70) with this franchise, knows that he could eventually find himself in the same situation as George.

"Hopefully, it won't be soon," he said.

It won't be if the Titans have anything to say about it. They have McNair under contract through 2009 and have built their offense around him.

Mason is coming off his second Pro Bowl berth and first as receiver, and Tyrone Calico, a second-round draft pick in 2003, may be ready to challenge Drew Bennett for the other starting slot. The Titans have other speedy receivers for depth, and veteran Erron Kinney leads an athletic trio of tight ends.

The offensive line that remains intact for a second straight season.

Antowain Smith, signed to provide veteran depth behind George's replacement Chris Brown, said McNair was the big attraction in joining the Titans. Smith was with the Patriots last January when McNair nearly pulled out victory on the final drive despite limping in pain.

"I have nothing but great respect for the man having played against him," Smith said. "Now, hopefully I can help him get where he wants to be and that's the big dance."

Despite a string of injuries so long the Titans had to include a new page in their new media guide to accommodate them, McNair's 103 starts ranks second only to Brett Favre (112) since 1997. McNair said it's probably a guarantee he'll be hurt come November.

"I think I can help myself out there by doing a lot of things during the course of the game to protect myself from the injuries I've had in the past," he said.

If McNair stays healthy, be ready for another MVP-caliber performance.

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