- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 11, 2009

MOUNT OLIVE, Miss. | The family and friends who grew up with native son Steve McNair didn’t have to say goodbye to the ex-NFL quarterback by themselves Friday night. The tiny town of Mount Olive had plenty of company.

People drove in from nearby states and joined the locals parking cars and trucks on the side of the four-lane divided highway that runs beside Reeves Funeral Home. Some left cars across the highway, dodging traffic to join the line of people waiting to pay their last respects.

Frankie Delancy of nearby Harrisville worked with McNair’s mother, Lucille. Delancy wasn’t surprised to see the long line twisting through the funeral home parking lot, onto the paved road and out onto the shoulder of the highway.

“He was a great person. You can see the turnout here for him. If you can’t tell by looking at this, I don’t know,” she said.

The visitation in McNair’s hometown followed two days of mourning in Nashville where thousands remembered the 2003 NFL co-MVP who led the Tennessee Titans to the 2000 Super Bowl. A capacity crowd of 8,000 is anticipated Saturday at his funeral in Reed Green Coliseum on the University of Southern Mississippi campus in nearby Hattiesburg.

It was a far different turnout than the modest funeral for Sahel Kazemi, the 20-year-old girlfriend who shot McNair to death in his sleep on July 4 and then shot herself in the head. Her brief funeral in Florida was closed to outsiders.

An officer helping direct traffic in and of the funeral home in Mount Olive could not estimate the crowd. The town has 1,000 residents, and McNair’s death left them stunned and distraught. The town sign had a banner hanging underneath saying that McNair would not be forgotten.

Glenda Felder, 54, followed McNair’s career since he was drafted by the then-Houston Oilers in 1995. She has his rookie card and went to Nashville and Baltimore to watch him play for the Titans and Ravens. She drove 6 1/2 hours from Baytown, Texas, to pay her respects and also plans to attend the funeral.

“He was a great man despite the end. He was a great man. I can’t judge him, can’t judge anyone. We all make mistakes,” she said.

Others at the funeral home included McNair’s agent, Bus Cook, and Atlanta Falcons running back Jerious Norwood.

Mourners shared their memories of McNair’s athletic accomplishments.

Mount Olive High School coach Sonny Magee has mentored nearly every athlete here in the past 35 years. Only McNair provided him a highlight reel’s worth of memories.

“He’d do things you wouldn’t think a person could do,” said Magee, McNair’s head basketball coach and an assistant football coach at the local high school. “Shoot, he’d be running and throw a 60-yard pass right on the money. Yes, sir.”

By the time McNair left for Alcorn State in Lorman, Miss., where he set records and made a run at the Heisman Trophy, he had become the pride of Mount Olive, the kid who could make everyone smile. He seemed perfect - not just for 2 1/2 hours every fall Friday night, but every day.

“Athletics, it makes the town go in a sense, and when somebody like this makes it big everybody around here is proud of him,” said Norman Johnston, an assistant football coach at the high school. “So when a person like him dies, it affects everybody. Rich, poor, black, white - it really has an effect on people because it doesn’t happen every day that somebody makes it big.”

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