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NFL: Town prepares for McNair’s funeral

Associated PressMOUNT OLIVE, Miss. ó Steve McNair left this tiny south Mississippi town to become an NFL star, though his presence remained.
The local hero’s death on the Fourth of July left most of Mount Olive’s 1,000 residents stunned and distraught. As they prepared to say goodbye with a funeral today, they again recalled tales of his athletic prowess.
Coach Sonny Magee has mentored nearly every athlete in Mount Olive in the last 35 years. But only McNair provided him a highlight reel’s worth of memories. Whether he had his large hands wrapped around a football, a basketball or a bat, McNair made the kind of plays that astounded Magee.
“He’d do things you wouldn’t think a person could do,” said Magee, who was 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 21/2 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 affect on people because it doesn’t happen every day that somebody makes it big.”
Mount Olive, like a lot of the small towns in the Deep South, is football crazy. Replays of college football games were on the TV on a summer afternoon in the local pharmacy.
Life is slow here. Coke in a bottle is served from an old cooler tucked behind a marble soda counter at Powell Drugs.
Football fills the void for the kids who look up to the players and for the men who constantly handicap the high school team’s chances. People look forward to fall Friday nights all year long. They talk about it, think about it, examine the roster for defects and seek out the coach to offer advice.
McNair has given the locals a lot to talk about. As a quarterback and defensive back, he tied the state record for interceptions and dominated conversations until his retirement after the 2007 season.
He was the quintessential country boy: hard-working, polite and a pleasure to be around.
“He liked to ride horses, four-wheelers, shoot ball, swim,” said Mount Olive resident Andrew Autry, who spent time in both the huddle and the saddle with McNair. “You know, that’s about all you can do in the country.”
Other Mount Olive residents played college ball, but no one has ever achieved McNair’s success.

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