The Tennessee Titans will retire a pair of jersey numbers this fall to honor two of the franchise’s all-time greats.
Quarterback Steve McNair’s No. 9 jersey and running back Eddie George’s No. 27 jersey will be retired in a ceremony during the Sept. 15 home opener against the Indianapolis Colts, Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk announced recently.
“Steve and Eddie will be forever linked as two of the driving forces for our team in the late 90’s and early 2000’s,” Strunk said. “They were the heart and soul of the team and each made the other a better player and ultimately led to a great deal of team success. Their statistics will forever live in our record books, but their play and sacrifice is what our fans will always remember. For that and all that they have done for our team, the number 9 and 27 will be retired with the all-time franchise greats.”
McNair and George join six other former Titans and Oilers to have their jersey numbers retired: safety/punter Jim Norton (43), defensive end Elvin Bethea (65), running back Earl Campbell (34), guard Mike Munchak (63), offensive lineman Bruce Matthews (74) and quarterback Warren Moon (1). Moon, whose number was retired on Oct. 1, 2006, was the most recent such honoree.
McNair played 11 seasons with the club (1995–2005), becoming its second all-time leading passer (27,141 yards) and recording more wins as a starter (76) than any other franchise quarterback.
George spent eight seasons with the team (1996–2003). He is the organization’s all-time leading rusher (10,009) as well as its all-time scrimmage yards leader (12,153).
During the duo’s time together (1996–2003), the team’s 80-48 record (.625) ranked third in the NFL behind only the Green Bay Packers’ 88-40 record (.688) and the Denver Broncos’ 83-45 (.648) mark. In their eight years as teammates, George and McNair experienced only one losing season, going 7-9 in 2001. They helped engineer the franchise’s only back-to-back 13-3 (or better) seasons from 1999–2000.
However, their significance during the franchise’s transition from Houston to Nashville was unquantifiable. As their careers blossomed on the field, they became arguably the Titans’ most important ambassadors off the field, gracefully nurturing the NFL’s arrival in Middle Tennessee and making themselves accessible in the community. They helped steady a roster that played in four different home stadiums in four seasons, culminating with the opening of Nissan Stadium and the renaming of the team in 1999.
The pair’s physicality and toughness became calling cards for the Titans offense. Those two qualities were the building blocks for what became the team’s identity as a whole.
In the same season the team became the Titans and opened a new stadium, George and McNair were instrumental in the run to Super Bowl XXXIV. Together they experienced four total playoff appearances (1999, 2000, 2002 and 2003), two division titles (2000 and 2002) and two AFC Championship games (1999 and 2002).
McNair trails only Moon (33,685) on the franchise’s all-time passing yards list. He is also second on the career charts in completions (2,305), completion percentage (59.5) and passer rating (83.3), and he is third in touchdown passes (156). As the top rushing quarterback in Titans/Oilers history, he is sixth among all franchise players in rushing yards (3,439) and fourth in rushing touchdowns (36).
McNair earned three of his four career Pro Bowl berths with the Titans, receiving the honor at the conclusion of the 2000, 2003 and 2005 seasons. In 2003, he shared Associated Press NFL Most Valuable Player honors with Peyton Manning after leading the league with a 100.4 rating—the best single-season rating in team history. McNair’s 2003 season totals included 3,215 passing yards with 24 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. He became the first African-American quarterback to win the league MVP award.
McNair played the final two seasons of his career with the Baltimore Ravens (2006–2007) and was named to his fourth Pro Bowl as a Raven in 2006. In his 13 NFL seasons (161 games), he completed 2,733 of 4,544 passes for 31,304 yards, 174 touchdowns and 119 interceptions with a passer rating of 82.8. He added 3,590 rushing yards and 37 touchdowns on 669 rushing attempts.
Currently, there are three players in the history of the NFL who have passed for 30,000 yards and rushed for 3,500 yards: Fran Tarkenton, Steve Young and McNair.
Beyond the statistics, McNair perhaps gained equal notoriety for the toughness he exuded and the intangibles he brought to his teams. Despite a well-documented list of injuries, only Brett Favre (154) and Manning (137) started more combined NFL regular season and postseason games than McNair (134) from the time he became a full-time starter in 1997 through 2005. In 1999, he was voted by his teammates as the Ed Block Courage Award winner. In December 2002, three separate injuries—turf toe, strained ribs and a sore back—prevented him from participating in any practice during the month, yet he led the team to a perfect 5-0 record and was named AFC Offensive Player of the Month. USA Today placed him third in its list of “The 10 Toughest Athletes in Sports” in February 2004, behind only Favre and the NBA’s Allen Iverson.
In the fourth quarter, McNair typically was at his very best. As a member of the Titans franchise, he was credited with 20 game-winning drives in the regular season and postseason, finishing second all-time behind Moon (23).
A native of Mount Olive, Miss., McNair was selected by the then-Houston Oilers with the third overall pick in the 1995 NFL Draft. Prior to his NFL career, the 6-foot-2-inch, 230-pound signal caller attended Alcorn State University, where he became the first player in collegiate history to accumulate 16,000 yards (16,823) of total offense. He passed away on July 4, 2009.
George, the 14th overall selection in the 1996 NFL Draft, spent the first eight seasons of his nine-year NFL career with the Titans and eclipsed Campbell (8,574 rushing yards) as the franchise’s most prolific runner. His 10,009 rushing yards from 1996–2003 ranked second in the NFL behind only Curtis Martin’s 10,182 yards, while George’s 12,153 scrimmage yards in the same time frame were third behind the totals of Marshall Faulk (14,130) and Martin (12,887). His accolades included four Pro Bowl selections (1997–2000), AP All-Pro honors in 2000 and the AP Rookie of the Year Award in 1996.
George also leads the franchise in career rushing attempts (2,733), career touchdowns (74), 1,000-yard rushing seasons (seven), seasons as the team’s leading rusher (eight), rushing attempts in a season (403 in 2000) and career playoff rushing yards (776). During his time with the Titans he amassed 36 100-yard rushing performances (second to Campbell’s 39), resulting in a 30-6 record in those contests.
George enjoyed his greatest statistical success in 2000, when he rushed for 1,509 yards, scored 16 touchdowns (14 rushing, two receiving), totaled six 100-yard rushing performances, and contributed 50 receptions.
A model of durability and consistency, George started every game he was with the franchise (128). He also established an NFL mark with 130 consecutive starts by a running back to begin a career—a total which ranks second in NFL history for consecutive starts by a running back at any point in a career, trailing Walter Payton (170). Additionally, he is the only running back in NFL history to record 300 or more carries for eight consecutive seasons, and his 403 carries in 2000 are the fifth-most in NFL history for a season.
George finished his career with the Dallas Cowboys in 2004. In 141 total NFL regular season games, he rushed for 10,441 yards and 68 touchdowns on 2,865 carries. He added 268 receptions for 2,227 yards and 10 scores.
The 6-foot-3-inch, 235-pound George averaged 1,160 rushing yards per season during his nine-year NFL career. Among all players who have played six seasons, only six averaged more rushing yards per season: Barry Sanders (1,527), Jim Brown (1,368), Payton (1,287), Martin (1,282), LaDainian Tomlinson (1,244) and Emmitt Smith (1,224). George, Tomlinson and Eric Dickerson are the only three NFL running backs to rush for 1,200 or more yards in each of their first five NFL seasons.
A native of Philadelphia, Pa., George attended Ohio State and won the 1995 Heisman Trophy before entering the NFL.