Stevie Wonder

As the seconds tick off, air McNair takes off.

Originally Published: November 24, 2003
By By Steve McNair with David Fleming | ESPN The Magazine

Practice ended hours ago. The fields outside the Titans practice facility are black. Inside, the players' lounge is deserted. Steve McNair is alone with his playbook in his lap. Typical. McNair has always done his best work late, since his days at Mount Olive High School in Mississippi. Today, in his ninth NFL season, he is the league's leading MVP candidate. He has also orchestrated 10 fourth-quarter game-winning drives since he came up a Lombardi Trophy short of victory in Super Bowl XXXIV. Who better, then, to work the opening monologue of The Late Show?

Tight End Throwback, that's what we called it. It was the state finals of my junior year in high school, in Mount Olive. We had 70 yards to go, a minute or so left to play. That's when I called it. It was something we made up, really. The coach didn't even know what it was. The guys in the huddle looked at me and each other like I was crazy. Are we really gonna run this now? We had a long way to go. We were down. Not a lot of time left. Everything else had failed. But I knew it would work. I looked to my brother Tim, our tight end, and told him, "I'm gonna pass it to you, okay? Fake like you're gonna run and lateral back to me." Then I turned to the receiver on the right and said, "Go deep." That's all. I got the ball back, sidestepped one guy, looked left, looked right, looked downfield and -- I can still remember this clear as day -- I saw that receiver streaking down the sideline. I threw the ball as far as I could, just let it go. He caught it and dragged a guy into the end zone with him. We won.

For me, that was the start. The point where, as a quarterback, I began to think that, no matter what the situation, if I had time on the clock and the ball and we needed a touchdown to win, I could do it.