NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The star quarterback and the waitress met six months ago, at a restaurant where she worked and his family often ate. He was married and 16 years older, but she seemed happy and eager to build a life with him.
Steve McNair was retired from the NFL and spending time again in Nashville, where he had spent the best years of his career. Sahel Kazemi was 20 years old and swept up: McNair gave her an Escalade for her birthday and took her on trips to Las Vegas and Key West.
"She just had it made, you know, this guy taking care of everything," her nephew, Farzin Abdi, said Monday.
McNair and Kazemi were found dead on the Fourth of July -- he from four gunshots to the head and chest, she from a single shot. Police said Monday that Kazemi had bought a gun Thursday night from someone they didn't identify.
On Monday, as Titans coach Jeff Fisher remembered McNair as the man who put the franchise on the map and police continued their investigation, more details of the relationship between the quarterback and the waitress continued to come to light.
Kazemi appeared confident the pair would last and had introduced her family to McNair, her nephew said. Abdi quoted Kazemi as saying McNair was divorcing his wife and that it would be finalized soon.
"I think she had already put her stuff up for sale on Craigslist," Abdi said.
But the first sign of trouble came early Thursday morning.
Police stopped Kazemi as she was driving the Escalade SUV that McNair gave her for her birthday in May. According to an arrest affidavit, Kazemi had bloodshot eyes and alcohol on her breath. She refused a breath test and told an officer "she was not drunk, she was high." She was charged with DUI.
McNair was with her, but he wasn't charged, and he later posted her bail.
The next night, McNair was out late with friends, but he and Kazemi got together at a downtown condo that the quarterback shared with a friend. A witness told police that McNair arrived between 1:30 a.m. and 2 a.m., and Kazemi's car was already there.
When McNair's roommate, Wayne Neeley, arrived at the condo at midday Saturday, what he thought he saw was his friend sitting on the couch and Kazemi lying on the floor. So Neeley went into the kitchen. Then he saw the blood, police said.
Officers said they found a gun under Kazemi's body. There were no signs of forced entry into the condo. Police labeled McNair's death a homicide Sunday, but said they were reviewing every possibility before labeling Kazemi's.
Mechelle McNair, the quarterback's wife of 12 years and mother of two of his four sons born between 1991 and 2004, has been described by police as very distraught about her husband's death and hasn't commented on it. McNair's brother, Fred, said on the day of the shootings that he had never heard of Kazemi.
|AP Photo/Davidson County Sheriff via The Tennessean / Associated Press|
|Sahel Kazemi, 20, was found shot to death Saturday in Nashville, Tenn., alongside former NFL QB Steve McNair, whom she had been dating.|
No court records of divorce proceedings have surfaced so far. The strongest public evidence that the McNairs might have been estranged is that their 14,000-square-foot Nashville home recently has been up for sale, listed at $3 million.
McNair, 36, retired from the NFL last offseason. He had earned the respect of fellow players for shaking off defenders and injuries and the love of fans amazed at how the quarterback kept showing up for work -- and winning.
He was known as "Air McNair" because of his passing prowess and was named to two Pro Bowls in 13 NFL seasons. He shared the NFL's MVP award with Peyton Manning in 2003 and led the Titans to Super Bowl XXXIV, where they fell one yard short of a last-second touchdown that would have tied the score.
In retirement, McNair had opened a restaurant, the Gridiron9, near the Tennessee State University campus. It sells deep-fried hot dogs for $3.50, Cajun catfish sandwiches for $6.50 and Southern-style chicken strips for $6.75.
Television news footage showed McNair putting away used trays inside the eatery after dumping scraps in a trash can.
"He had a sweet spirit," Kimberly Hardy, a 25-year-old McNair admirer, said outside the restaurant, where mourners have been gathering and leaving flowers and writing notes on the front window.
The night before he died, McNair went alone to the Blue Moon Lagoon Restaurant, where he met another couple around 10:30 p.m. and then left by himself about 1 a.m., said James Weathers, manager of the restaurant.
Weathers said McNair occasionally visited there and "was always alone, but he'd meet a group of friends." The manager described McNair as always friendly, "never a big drinker," gracious with constant photo-seekers.
Earlier this year, Kazemi and McNair took trips to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Florida and Mississippi, said Abdi, the nephew. McNair had been seen at Kazemi's Nashville apartment two to three times per week -- so often that neighbors wondered whether he had moved in with her.
"They were together all the time, unless he was taking his kids on vacation," Abdi said.
Kazemi was born in Iran but left in 2000, fleeing religious persecution for their Baha'i faith, Abdi said. They spent 2½ years in Turkey before moving to Florida. Later, Kazemi dropped out of high school and, at age 17, moved with a boyfriend to Nashville, where she sometimes worked two or three jobs to support herself.
Kazemi liked not depending on anyone for money, and she told her nephew that McNair admired her independent nature.
"He liked her so much because they would go shopping and stuff and she would want to spend her own money," Abdi said. "The reason he said he loves her is because she's not trying to use him like other girls. She was different from other girls he had been with."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press