McNair plays through the pain

McNair plays through the pain

OWINGS MILLS -- Steve McNair has scars, war stories and a major reputation for enduring pain. The Baltimore Ravens' new starting quarterback has undergone at least six surgeries during his 11 years in the NFL, including procedures to repair damage to his sternum, back, toe, knee, ankle and shoulder.

That physical toughness has built a fierce enough distinction that Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis regards McNair as a true warrior.

McNair led the Tennessee Titans to four playoff appearances and a Super Bowl berth, missing only 19 starts due to injuries. However, he usually pays a heavy price during the offseason. His body is dotted with multiple surgical scars.

"Some people have a different threshold for pain," said Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason, McNair's former Tennessee teammate. "For some people, a broken finger is too much. For some people, you've got to break both of their legs.

"Steve is one of those guys where it's got to be a point where he can't really move at all to not be out there on the field. His toughness is better than any other quarterback in this league."

Despite surgeries to his right knee, lower back, left big toe, right shoulder, left ankle and sternum, McNair has never dramatically altered his tough-guy approach.

"I don't think he's going to change his style of play," said cornerback Samari Rolle, who played with McNair in Tennessee. "That's the trademark of who he is."

McNair missed two games last season after missing eight in 2004. Last season, he battled through a torn pectoral muscle, back spasms and a sore ankle, but recovered in time to play in the Pro Bowl as an injury replacement.

"Everybody knows Steve has been down a couple of times," Mason said. "Whether he has one year, two years or three years left, only Steve knows that."

McNair flunked the Titans' exit physical, but passed the Ravens' physical Thursday without incident. He didn't take another Tennessee physical after winning a grievance to rejoin his teammates for workouts after being barred from the Titans' training complex.

"The thing that frustrates me the most is that the Titans never gave him physicals when he went out there with things taped up, so why give him all these physicals now?" Lewis said. "You never ran him away from the weight room when he came in there hurting every day, so why are you running him away now?"

One adjustment McNair has definitely made to his game is to leave the pocket less after entering the league as one of the top scrambling quarterbacks.

"I think you've got to be a lot smarter," McNair said. "You have got to know when to run and know when to throw the ball away. I know the game.

"When you are young, you tend to be impatient and that is the way I was when in my first four or five years. I was impatient and taking off running. Now, it's like I know where to go with the football. Can I still run? Yes, absolutely."

NOTE: The Ravens invested a total of two first-round draft picks in quarterback Kyle Boller, including a trade with New England, along with a total of $6.68 million in salary and bonus money during his three-year tenure as a starter. Despite 32 interceptions, 31 touchdowns and a career 69.2 passer rating, Billick said he doesn't consider Boller a disappointment.

"I don't know that it's not working," Billick insisted. "We made it very clear at the end of the season that we were going to look to upgrade this football team in any way that we could. I think our confidence in Kyle is evidenced by the fact that we bypassed some other options along the way, so we do have a lot of faith in Kyle Boller.

"We're going to need Kyle Boller and I have no doubt he'll be ready. I also know that Kyle's professional enough and I know he's smart enough to utilize Steve as a resource to tap into the perspective that Steve has."

Aaron Wilson writes for Ravens Insider and the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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