You come, you better play. Otherwise, you'll be just like William Logan last year against Grambling, kicked out of the Alcorn State huddle when Steve McNair told him not to come back until he'd cleared his head. McNair can't afford mistakes on the football field; hell, he can't even afford family there. Tim McNair knows that. On the field Steve can look at his brother, a wide receiver, dead-on, and there'll be nothing for him, not a flicker of recognition. "Shine," Tim will say, using the name he gave Steve because of the way his nose gleams come wintertime. "Shine, look at the free safety." But there's no connection. The eyes are dead to everything but the game. "It's like he doesn't even know me," Tim says.
This is how you get Steve McNair to know you: Do what he says. Or else you'll feel the way his teammates did after the Grambling game three weeks ago. Alcorn went to the locker room at halftime with the score 35-35; McNair had thrown for 268 yards and gotten nowhere but to the brink of tears. So he did something he never does. I le asked coach Cardell Jones if he could speak. He urged his teammates to start from scratch, to cut down mistakes. He asked his defense for help. I know we're the better team," McNair told them. "And if you're not sure, just follow me. Follow me, and I'll take you to the promised land."
He almost did. McNair threw for 217 more yards in the second half and finished with five touchdown passes. He also ran for 99 yards and another touchdown. It wasn't enough. Percy Singleton, a wide receiver, dropped the winning pass with 10 seconds left. Two other touchdowns were dropped along the way. Alcorn's defense surrendered 612 yards in the 62-56 loss. Steve looked at Tim afterward and said softly, "I guess they didn't want it. I promised to take them, and nobody wanted to help." Maybe because he so rarely asks.
The following week McNair sliced up Tennessee-Chattanooga with 647 yards and eight touchdown passes in a 54-28 Alcorn win for a Division I-AA single-game record for individual total offense, which was 171 yards better than No. 11 Alabama's team did against Chattanooga this year. In a 39-7 win over Alabama State last Saturday, he merely passed for 342 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 108 yards. McNair is averaging 577.6 total yards a game, and at this pace he will break Ty Detmer's NCAA record of 14,665 total career yards. He's 6'2", weighs 218 pounds. "He's perfect," says Alcorn offensive coordinator Rickey Taylor, and who's going to argue?
McNair's megaperformances this season have drawn the newspaper reporters and TV crews and NFL scouts to tiny Lorman, Miss., like never before; they have made the hustlers racing to the state's river-boat casinos slow down and point at the Alcorn exit; and they've confirmed that here, rising out of a school with an enrollment of 3,300, is an increasingly viable contender for the Heisman Trophy. No school this size and no black college has produced a Heisman winner, but here is one fact that changes everything: Steve McNair is the best college quarterback in the nation.
"Absolutely," says Arizona Cardinal scout Cole Proctor. "He's just a unique talent. He's got it all." Asked the last time he saw a quarterback with McNair's combination of arm strength, speed and discipline, Proctor says, "I haven't. I coached against Steve Young and Jim McMahon. I thought McMahon was the best quarterback; I thought Young was the best athlete. This guy's a combination of both."
"He's on the same level as the best quarterbacks I've seen since I've been scouting," says Dwight Adams, director of player personnel for the Buffalo Bills. "Testaverde, Bledsoe, Shuler, Mirer, Dilfer.
"He's the total package. If there's a better athlete—a guy who's got the arm and can scramble and evade and is more durable and more productive—I haven't seen him this year. I've watched him throw the ball on a rope 35 yards consistently, watched him throw 60 yards downfield, watched him run off and run through people. And his judgment...his touch. These guys don't have to break stride when they come out of their turns. The ball is there. This guy's unusual."
Says another AFC scout: "I've never seen one more physically talented for the requirements of the position. I did Rick Mirer two years ago, and to me there's no comparison. I love the kid."
They're not saying anything McNair doesn't know. Raised in a cramped shack by his mother, Lucille, who works the night shift at an electronic component factory, McNair doesn't brag about anything but his Nintendo prowess, doesn't dwell on his mammoth statistics. "I'm just a country guy from Mount Olive, Mississippi," he says, "trying to make it in life." But ask him how good he is, and the answer is firm: "When I get on the field, I feel unstoppable. The field is just a big pasture, and it's just me dodging everybody. I feel those people can't stop me."