I didn't know Steve McNair, shot to death early Saturday morning in Nashville, Tenn. But I knew of him, and of how he stood — tall — in the pocket, especially in his four games against the Jets over the years.
In fact, the very first start of McNair's very good, borderline-Hall-of-Fame career, came as a rookie against the Green & White. It was the next-to-last game of the 1995 season between two teams playing out their strings in the Astrodome.
It was my second year as a Jets beatwriter, and I remember the 'Dome, once considered "one of the Seven Wonders of the New World," to be a dark, dingy, echoey place. A mere 35,873 paying customers showed up for that game, during which McNair threw a 35-yard scoring strike to Haywood Jeffires to open a 10-0 first-quarter lead, completed 13 of 27 for 198 yards overall, and notched the first win of his career by the score of 23-6.
His next start against the Jets came the next year at the Meadowlands, and the circumstances were again favorable for him and the Oilers. Neil O'Donnell was supposed to come back from his Game 6 shoulder injury for that game but injured his calf during pregame warmups in the sloppy North Jersey weather and was out for the rest of the year.
No doubt it wouldn't have mattered. Two first-quarter McNair TD passes sent the Oilers on to a 35-10 road rout of the Jets, who suffered loss No. 12 in their 1-15 season.
The final two meetings turned out more favorably for the Green & White.
In 1998 the Jets were coming off of a very tough road loss to the Indianapolis Colts and then-rookie QB Peyton Manning and had to try to resuscitate their playoff hopes with a road win at Vanderbilt Stadium over McNair, Eddie George and the then still-named Tennessee Oilers.
Consider it done, but only after a 3-3 first half in which McNair and George seemed to set the tone. Vinny Testaverde rebounded to throw two touchdown passes to trigger a 24-3 road win, the first of a seven-game winning streak that carried th Jets into Denver for the AFC Championship Game.
The final meeting came on a Week 13 Monday night back at the Meadowlands in 2003. The battered Jets came in at 4-7, the Titans at 9-2, but despite McNair's 59-yard TD strike to Justin McCareins over Aaron Beasley three minutes into the prime time game, the Jets behind Chad Pennington and Curtis Martin scuffled back for the 24-17 shocker.
Bottom line: The Jets (who never faced him as a Raven) split four games with McNair, who completed 53 of 103 passes (51.5 percent) for 749 yards, five TDs and two INTs, all for an 83.4 rating against them.
The numbers don't mean much in light of the human tragedy that occurred over the weekend in the Volunteer State. But they speak of how well the Jets battled McNair, and how well McNair battled one team over the course of his very strong NFL career.