Up the Middle with Skitch Hanson: McNair, We Hardly McKnew Ye

Scratchbomb hands over the reins to nationally syndicated sports columnist Skitch Hanson, as we’ve done many times before.You may know him as the author of the highly popular syndicated column “Up The Middle.” You may also have read his best-selling book What Does NASCAR Say About America?: Seriously, Do You Have Any Idea, ‘Cause I’m Totally Stumped Here. He’s also a frequent guest on ESPN’s sportswriters panel show My Voice Is Louder than Yours. Without further ado, here’s Skitch.

mcnair.jpgI think we’ll all remember where we were when we heard about Steve McNair’s death. I know I will. I was at a Panera bread, enjoying a delightful caffe mocha espresso. My editor called me on my cell phone, which I’m still getting used to. I still remember the days when you had to let your editor know where you were going, so they could reach you at all times! True story: Damon Runyon had an ear tag.

So I have my cell phone on vibrate in my left hip pocket, but I totally forget that I have it on me. So when the thing starts vibrating, I’m pretty startled. My leg shoots up and kicks the table, spilling scalding hot espresso into my lap. And when I finally fish the thing out of my pants, it slips out of my hand and crashes to the ground, smashing into a million pieces. Boy, was my face red! My upper thighs, too.

So I’d like to think I know something about what the McNair family is going through. Sure, getting first-degree burns on your legs isn’t quite as bad as losing a father and husband under tragic and mysterious circumstances. But when you lose a loved one, it’s as if someone has spilled searing, caffeinated liquid on your soul. No napkin can sop up that pain. No dry cleaner can remove that stain from the pants of your heart.

I know Steve McNair might have gotten mixed up in some stuff he shouldn’t have. He was only human, like all of us. Perhaps he made mistakes, but it is not up for me to judge him. Mostly because I’ve done that before and gotten into big trouble for it.

Like when I was reporter fresh out of college, and the news came down the wire that Thurman Munson had died. I got a hot tip that the Yankee captain had died after climbing over a fence at the zoo and baiting a grizzly bear. I ran with that story, blasting Munson for doing something so reckless and inhumane.

Needless to say, I’ve regretted writing that story ever since. Once something is in print, you can’t unprint it. And you can’t un-firebomb your house when it’s attacked by angry, grieving fans. Let that be a lesson to all of you budding reporters: cultivate reliable sources. For instance: Guys who huff paint down at the roundhouse are generally not reliable sources.

When I’ll think of Steve McNair, I’ll prefer to think of the Steve McNair I saw on media day during Super Bowl XXXIV. That game was played at the Georgia Dome, so when it was my turn for a question, I asked him if he was having a “peach” of a time. He gave me a funny look, so I repeated myself.

“I don’t get it,” he said. I told him it was an expression. “An expression of what?” he asked. “Where does that come from?” I had to admit I had no idea; it was just something you hear people say. “I’ve never heard anyone say that,” he said, and moved on to the next reporter.

It’s one of the treasured sportswriting memories that I’ll always carry with me. Not in my hip pocket, though. Things are still a little tender down there.