By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – June 13, 2019)
Here’s what I can’t do: Add anything to what’s already been written over the past 24 hours or certainly over the past 24 years about either Steve McNair or Eddie George. I needed to find some sort of angle that wouldn’t rely on recapping and laying out a smorgasbord of statistics you already know or accolades of which you’re already aware. Those stories have been out there forever, and ProFootballReference exists for a reason.
Thus, what exactly do I, a man who moved to Nashville in May of 2017, have to offer this conversation? Well, I figured out the answer, and it may lead to a Big 6 show topic over the coming weeks. Allow me to explain to you the concept of a “surrogate” as it relates to sports, and then we’ll apply that idea to Mac and Eddie.
The simplest definition of surrogate is one entity taking the place of another, to be a substitute for something else or someone else. Several years ago, I decided I would adopt the term to describe your “other” team. What that means is you have your squad, the franchises or schools you ride or die with, and these are the ones that you might decorate your home or your car to support, the ones you buy merch for, and the ones that people know you for as a fan.
And, in my experience, there’s also a substitute team, one that while you don’t necessarily openly support, you quietly hope to see those guys do well and if your favorites aren’t involved, you root for them almost all the time. For example, you might be a Tennessee Volunteers fan, but you also kind of like to see Gonzaga play well, or maybe you pull for Gary Patterson and TCU, or whatever it might be. This is a phenomenon you might balk at or think isn’t sports fandom at its purest, but if you’re honest with yourself, you probably do have a surrogate team, and I promise you, that’s okay.
Here’s my tribute or my two cents that speak to the iconic nature of Steve McNair and Eddie George. I’m not a Tennessee Titans fan, even though I cover the team. I don’t usually root for or against them, which works well as a media member where the rooting interests are supposed to either subside or greatly diminish once you’re actively involved in speaking about personalities, teams, contracts, and decisions in sports. That said, in the late 90s and throughout much of my adult life, I’m never sad to see them do well.
The Titans have been my NFL surrogates for as long as I can remember, once they became an NFL franchise, and it wasn’t because of the colors or the logos or certainly the Houston Oilers history. It was because I had so much fun watching two guys, two warriors, that went about their professional careers in the most passionate of manner.
Those two football players were a number three overall pick from Alcorn State in 1995 and a number 14 overall pick from Ohio State in 1996. Yes, it was because of Mac and Eddie that the Titans were my surrogates, even to the point I played a season of NFL 2K and 2K1 both as the Titans, because I wanted to run for daylight with 27 and make plays with 9. Because I loved McNair and George so much, I also got caught up in the old Adelphia Coliseum atmosphere I’d see on television living in North Carolina, and although the Carolina Panthers became a reality during my time growing up there, I still gravitated to Tennessee whenever my beloved Denver Broncos weren’t involved.
This is another AFC team that was my surrogate, which usually isn’t the case, but I just enjoyed watching those two guys play football and found myself always wanting to see them win. I remember actually being angry when the Ravens defeated them in the playoffs, I was saddened when Kevin Dyson came up a yard short against the Rams in the Super Bowl, and I always thought to myself how cool it had to be to watch that team in the old building, which at the time was the current building.
All the statistics in the world don’t mean as much to me as the fact that two guys I didn’t root for while they were in college became two of my all-time favorite NFL players as I watched them mature, succeed, and indeed thrive in the League. There’s no higher compliment I can pay as someone that didn’t grow up here, that didn’t spend any time in Nashville until much later in life, than to say that two guys who played for a team that was not “mine”… affected me as they did as a football fan.
The Titans were my surrogates, and the two primary reasons behind that reality wore the 9 and 27 jerseys that were deservedly retired on Wednesday afternoon. I never had any interaction with McNair and have only been in the same room with Eddie George on a couple of occasions, never actually speaking to him directly. But those two left an indelible imprint on me when I was merely a fan, and that’s never going to change.
I thank them both for the entertainment and drama they provided, not to mention all the pain they endured as they applied their skills at the highest level imaginable. All the stories I’ve heard and all the charity work they’ve done only add to the rich tapestry of their legacies, but for this transplant, who now is blessed to call Nashville home, those numbers have been retired and in a place of honor for much longer than 24 hours.
Congratulations to Steve McNair and Eddie George, two icons, two Music City legends that will still be spoken about for centuries to come. The honor Amy Adams Strunk announced yesterday for 9 and 27 was arguably long overdue, but we can celebrate it in 2019 just as effectively as any other year.