Friday, July 10, 2009

All walks of life come for McNair

Thousands pay their final respects at public visitation By Janell Ross and Jim Wyatt • THE TENNESSEAN • July 10, 2009 An attorney who represented Steve McNair, a welder from White House, a GM worker dealing with his own uncertainty — they and thousands of others filed past the former NFL quarterback's casket Thursday during the visitation at Mt. Zion Baptist Church. "I think people respected him for what he did on the field and what he did for this community," said Roger May, the attorney. "He did a lot that people knew about, as far as his camps and the Katrina situation, but he did a lot of things for people that most people don't know.'' The crowd that filtered through Mt. Zion's Whites Creek location off Old Hickory Boulevard included people black and white, young and old, dressed in funeral black dresses and suits or jeans and football jerseys. Inside the dimly lit sanctuary, a guitar rendition of "Blessed Assurance" played softly. Ushers bearing boxes of tissues moved mourners through the process. Some people filed past McNair's closed casket without stopping or looking; others paused at one of the two photos flanking it. Some took seats on Mt. Zion's honey-colored, wooden pews, transfixed by a highlight reel projecting key moments of McNair's football career — from Alcorn State University to the Titans. Marcus Taylor, a 33-year-old welder, didn't stay for McNair's funeral, but he drove from White House to pay his respects at the visitation. Taylor said he identified with McNair, a man from rural Mississippi, and respected his work on and off the field, and the way he handled the celebrity life. "Steve McNair is one of the biggest celebrities in the state of Tennessee, that this state has ever seen other than Elvis and Johnny Cash," Taylor said. "But the thing about McNair was he was still just a good old country boy like us at heart. It was like he didn't believe that wealth and fortune made him above and beyond anybody else. Some people, you know, can't handle the fame." He'd never met McNair, unlike Dorsey Hamby, 52, from Franklin, a personal seat license holder with seats in LP Field's south end zone. She came to the church Thursday wearing a McNair jersey and fought back tears as she talked about his life. Hamby met McNair at a Kroger once and had several other brief encounters with him around the Nashville area. "I wanted his autograph but had nothing to write on," she said of one. "I looked around, and my husband had a Titans cap on, and he signed it. He was always the sweetest person, treated us like he was my best friend.'' 'An incredible man' Some came to the event bearing their own, separate grief, like Demetrius Sanders, a 55-year-old GM worker from Murfreesboro dealing with the shutdown of his employer's auto plant. He also came with sympathy in his heart for Sahel Kazemi, the woman police say killed McNair and then herself Saturday. "This was our leader here, an incredible man," Sanders said. "But he was human, he was a man. I am a man. I cannot testify to all the things that he had in his personal life, but I can attest to what it is to be an athlete, what it is to keep going when you are in pain, to perform. That takes something. It means something. "… But I just hope that his wife forgives him."

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