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Fisher: Celebrate McNair's work on the field, in the community

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- An emotional Jeff Fisher said Monday that his former quarterback, Steve McNair, was a "great person" who put the Tennessee Titans' franchise on the NFL map.

The Titans' coach called the slain quarterback one of the "greatest competitors of all time on the field." Fisher was the only coach McNair had for the first 11 years of his NFL career, and the coach said the quarterback's legacy is what he did on the field and in the community.

"The Steve McNair that I knew would want me to say, 'I'm sorry. I'm not perfect. We all make decisions sometimes that are not in the best interests. Please forgive me,'" Fisher said. "The Steve McNair that I knew would want me to say, 'Celebrate my life for what I did on the field, for what I did in the community, the kind of teammate that I was.'

"That's what the Steve that I knew would want me to say."

McNair was found shot to death Saturday, alongside 20-year-old Sahel Kazemi, in Nashville. Police have said McNair, a married father of four, had been dating Kazemi and ruled his death a homicide. They haven't ruled on the death of Kazemi, who bought a gun less than two days before the shootings, according to police.

Fisher had been in Iraq last week as part of an NFL trip to visit the military. His cell-phone service resumed after the group landed in Kuwait, and Fisher noticed a string of calls had come in when former Titans running back Eddie George called and wound up informing the coach of McNair's death.

George also attended Monday's news conference and said he only called Fisher hoping to learn more information. Fisher last saw McNair when he played at the coach's annual charity softball game on June 20 when the quarterback was with his wife, Mechelle, and his sons.

Fisher said he's still shocked by McNair's death at age 36.

"This is hard," Fisher said. "This is hard on everybody. This is not an easy thing. There will be a void. Again, I'll fill that void with those memories. That's what we have to do."

Fisher's first full season was in 1995, when the then-Houston Oilers made McNair the No. 3 pick overall in the draft. Fisher slowly eased McNair into the lineup, giving him spot duty over his first two seasons before turning the team over to the quarterback.

Fisher, George and other former McNair teammates who attended the news conference tried to focus on the tough player they knew and not the circumstances of his death. Fisher said he hopes McNair will be remembered for the type of player and person he was -- and is forgiven.

George said he is dealing with the loss of a dear friend.

"I'm not in a position to judge anyone or to be judged. That's up to God," George said. "And he was close to me. We came into this organization together. We built something together with Brad (Hopkins), Blaine (Bishop). You talk about the nomadic years, those were tough, led by Jeff Fisher, those were some tough times, and all we had was us."

McNair took over as starting quarterback for the then-Tennessee Oilers in 1997 -- their first year in the state after relocation as the team played games that season in Memphis while commuting from Nashville. Another year, games were played at Vanderbilt University in Nashville before the renamed Titans moved into their new stadium.

"We disappeared going through that process," Fisher said of the team's national identity.

Fisher's fondest memories of McNair include his overtime victory over the New York Giants in December 2002, a 71-yard touchdown run against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1998 and ignoring a surgically repaired back by going airborne for a touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers in November 1999.

Fisher gave McNair leeway, especially when injured, by allowing the quarterback to sit out practice during the week, knowing he would be there at kickoff. McNair repaid that faith by becoming a two-time Pro Bowler and the 2003 co-MVP of the NFL. In the 1999 season, he led the Titans to their lone Super Bowl appearance.

Fisher also recalled spotting McNair, with his wife at his side, using a walker at a local hospital to receive an epidural injection so he could stand up at practice the next day.

"If he could walk, he was going to play," Fisher said.

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