Thousands gather to honor McNair's accomplishments on and off field

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Steve McNair's former teammates remembered his smile and called him a warrior. His coach recalled how the ex-NFL quarterback bounced back from a very painful injury that had him ready to quit the game.

It took McNair's pastor and close friend to caution against judging the man for the circumstances of his death in Thursday night's memorial service. Bishop Joseph W. Walker III used the example of how Jesus told those without sin to cast the first stone when they wanted to kill an adultress.

"Drop your stone the next time you write about Steve McNair. Drop your stone the next time you text somebody. Drop your stone the next time you twitter. Drop your stone those of you in the barbershops, the beauty shops. Those of you walking the streets on the corner, drop your stone," Bishop Joseph W. Walker III said Thursday night at the memorial service for McNair.

"What I do know about this man was that he loved God, though, he was just like us -- imperfect. But he knew God."

McNair, who was married, was shot to death at his condo early Saturday by his 20-year-old girlfriend, Sahel Kazemi, who then turned the gun on herself.

McNair's wife and family, friends, former teammates and coaches gathered along with thousands of fans to remember his accomplishments on and off the field in Nashville, capping two days' of celebrating the quarterback's life in the town he put on the NFL map by taking the Titans to Super Bowl XXXIV.

His body will be taken to Mississippi for a visitation in his hometown of Mt. Olive on Friday night. The funeral is Saturday at Reed Green Coliseum in Hattiesburg before a private burial back in Mt. Olive.

Mechelle McNair, who wore sunglasses, left just before McNair's casket was escorted out by his pallbearers. It was her first public appearance since her husband died, and the pool photographer and the cameraman inside the church were asked not to take pictures of her or other family members.

Walker called Mechelle McNair an amazing woman.

"You have inspired us all to endure hardship as a good soldier," Walker said.

Eddie George was among those who spoke during the service and was a pallbearer. He said afterward that helped make McNair's death more real.

"But I won't remember him in the casket. When I wake up, I'll remember No. 9. He's smiling right now laughing and really enjoying himself," George said.

McNair's closed casket was on display at Mount Zion Baptist Church, where he had attended services since moving to Nashville in 1997. It was flanked by a large photo of him posing with his 2003 NFL MVP award on the right and another of him holding a football on the left.

The program included a statement from the McNair family.

"In our loss, our hurt, and our pain we recognize our gains in you our friends and loved ones ... They have all been a source of strength and comfort at this time to our family," it read.

Titans owner Bud Adams, Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen and Nashville Mayor Karl Dean attended.

Among those speaking was Titans coach Jeff Fisher, who recalled a hit McNair took to his chest in September 2000 that had the NFL quarterback ready to quit the game. He was in so much pain that he spent a bye weekend with the team's former chaplain in Houston.

Then McNair, who struggled to breathe, watched his backup knocked out of the Titans' next game. Fisher said McNair looked at him, winked, tossed two passes and then drove them down the field to the winning touchdown. Fisher said he caught up to McNair walking off the field that day in Pittsburgh and started to talk when the quarterback interrupted and pointed to the sky.

"No more turf toe, no more sacks. No more shoulder problems, and no more interceptions, only touchdown passes. I'm going to miss you No. 9," Fisher said.

Derrick Lewis wore his Titans jersey to the stadium Thursday. He and his family were devastated when they learned of McNair's death. But Lewis said the details of the killing haven't changed his opinion of McNair.

"I will always remember him for the good things that he did for the community and the Tennessee Titans," Lewis said. "Nobody's perfect."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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