Big things were anticipated for the New York Jets defense after they got away with larceny by selecting safety Erik McMillan in the third round of the 1988 draft.
It was at Missouri where the All-American from St. Louis caught the eye of NFL scouts. As a senior, McMillan tied an NCAA record for most touchdowns following an interception in one season when he returned three of his five interceptions into the opposition's end zone. He earned team captaincy as both a junior and a senior – something that had only happened once before the previous 35 years in Columbia.
As if his talents alone weren't enough to mold him into a terrific NFL player, McMillan had football greatness in his blood. His father Ernie was a four-time All Pro selection as a tackle for the St. Louis Cardinals, playing in the late 60's and early 70's.
At McMillan's first training camp, he earned the Jets' starting job at safety and didn't look back. He finished the year with a rookie club-record eight interceptions, returning two for touchdowns. Injuries were the only thing that slowed McMillan down as he missed action in weeks 11, 15 and 16. After the outstanding rookie campaign, he was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and played in the first of his two Pro Bowls. The McMillan Pro Bowl nomination was particularly significant because Eric and Ernie became the first father-son combination to earn Pro Bowl status.
McMillan evaded any hint of a sophomore slump in 1989. The second year-safety collected six interceptions including a club record 92-yard touchdown return against Indianapolis. McMillan also etched his name in the league record books again, becoming just the 19th player in NFL history to return two fumble recoveries for scores. "E-Mac" became the first Jets player in team history to play in the Pro Bowl in his first two seasons.
Although McMillan's professional career covered just six seasons, his achievements made in his first four in New York are nothing short than remarkable. In 51 starts, McMillan snared 22 interceptions for 608 return yards and five touchdowns. As if those numbers weren't impressive enough, in 1992, the 28-year-old took a shot at returning punts for the first time in his career. McMillan returned 22 punts for 420 yards, which was good for 19.1 yards per return.
After spending time with the Browns, Chiefs and Eagles in 1993, McMillan retired from the NFL. With the NFL behind him, McMillan had much to look forward to outside the gridiron. In addition to his business administration degree he had earned while at Missouri, McMillan earned his master's degree in educational administration from Fordham and was in pursuit of a doctorate in the same field upon retirement.
"Erik is as competitive as anyone I've been around," said Pete Carroll, the current head coach at USC and former Jets coach. "If he played basketball he'd always want the last shot of the game. That's what you look for. He has no limitations."