By Hal Bock
The Associated Press
3:18 PM PST, January 23, 2000
Sometimes it's "Air McNair'' for the 4,000-yard seasons he had in college.
And sometimes it's "Dare McNair,'' because he's had to prove to his NFL doubters that he could duplicate those big numbers he put up at Division I-AA Alcorn State.
Now the doubters can call him a Super Bowl-bound quarterback.
Sore toe and all, McNair ran around the field Sunday like a kid heading for a candy store. And with Eddie George accompanying him, the Tennessee Titans are on their way to the Super Bowl after defeating Jacksonville 33-14.
McNair clearly enjoyed the moment, even when he was asked what "Dare McNair'' means.
"I don't know,'' the quarterback said. "You tell me.''
It means the Super Bowl is usually reserved for big name guys with big school pedigrees. McNair defies those rules. Teams figure if you challenge him, he won't respond.
"It was a mental adjustment,'' he said. "After 4,000-plus yards every year in college, now I'm in a balanced attack throwing for 100 or 200 yards every game. I had to get Eddie the ball.''
McNair had one of those 100-yard games Sunday, a humble 112 on 14 of 23 completions.
But he also ran for 91 and scored two touchdowns, jitterbugging his way all around the Jaguars in the AFC Championship game, punctuating it with a 51-yard dash in the fourth quarter that set up the wrapup touchdown.
Naturally, he also scored it.
"It was play action, a one-man route, led by the tight end,'' he said. "It was a great fake with Eddie. The cornerback and safety didn't bite. I had to make something happen.''
It was like that all day. Over and over, McNair made something from nothing against a determined defense designed by Jacksonville coach Tom Coughlin.
"He's a strong, strong, physical football player,'' Coughlin said. "We had guys with our arms wrapped around him and they couldn't bring him down. He's a tremendous weapon when he's running down the field.
Time after time, he seemed pinned, caught with no place to go. Then he'd sidestep a tackler, head fake another, and the next thing, he was either running downfield or passing there.
McNair was not 100 percent, either.
He showed up in Jacksonville Friday wearing a boot on his left foot to protect one of football's more modern injuries turf toe. He's had the injury for a while and playing on the artificial surface at Indianapolis last week hardly helped the condition.
"It got better each day,'' he said. "I was not sitting out this game. It's something I worked too hard for.''
There still is pain, but McNair was not complaining.
"Right now, it's a good hurt,'' he said.
McNair was listed as questionable for the game which, in the lexicon of the NFL meant he was 50-50. On game day, though, he turned out to be 100 percent. The only question was how many yards he would generate.
Things did not start out all that well. On Tennessee's first play from scrimmage, the Titans were called for delay of game.
The first series went nowhere and the second was headed in the same direction when Carnell Lake intercepted a pass by McNair with Jacksonville already leading 7-0, But Lake was called for interference on the play and the penalty was a reprieve for McNair.
Suddenly, he was Air McNair again, poised and picking the Jaguars apart. A run here, a pass there and he took Tennessee into the end zone to tie the game.
Midway through the second quarter, McNair lost his favorite receiver when Yancey Thigpen broke his right foot.
No problem. McNair simply found other places to go. He completed passes to seven different receivers.
The most impressive came on Tennessee's first possession of the second half. Trapped by Kevin Hardy, McNair danced away from a sure sack and hit George for 15 yards.
"That was a great play by Eddie,'' McNair said. "It was a keeper and they came through untouched. I got away, reversed the ground on him and threw a touch pass.''
Tony Brackens, who had flattened him in the second quarter and knocked the air out of McNair, nailed him again on the play. This time, though, the hit was late and the penalty added 15 more yards for the Titans.
Tennessee continued on into the end zone, a go-ahead TD scored by McNair and the start of a 16-point spurt in 4 minutes, 28 seconds that put the Titans in charge of the game.
This was McNair, comfortable and competent. There were no five-touchdown fireworks like the last time he faced the Jaguars. This was a quarterback in charge, able to do just about anything he wanted, whenever he wanted.
And when he was done, there was nothing questionable about his toe anymore.
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