By Rich Campbell
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, November 16, 2006
OWINGS MILLS, Md., Nov. 15 -- Steve McNair was watching television Monday evening when he learned that Jason Campbell was named the Washington Redskins' starting quarterback. McNair, the Baltimore Ravens' quarterback, quickly reached for his cellphone and sent his friend a text message of congratulations and advice.
Along with wishes of good luck, McNair told Campbell to "play your type of game."
Many don't know what Campbell's "type of game" is yet, but McNair surely does. The Mississippi natives have known each other since Campbell was an all-state quarterback at Taylorsville High School in the late 1990s.
"I think it's a great situation," McNair said Wednesday. "His time has come, and I think he just has to go out there and take advantage of it."
Now in his 12th season, McNair is the NFL's longest-tenured black quarterback, and he has become a mentor to some of the league's young signal callers. Two young black quarterbacks in particular, Campbell and Tennessee Titans rookie Vince Young, are close with McNair and frequently seek his advice.
"I embrace it," McNair, 33, said of his role as a mentor. "A lot of people shy away from that. Being an African American quarterback, as long as you can work hard and as long as you have the ability, you can make it in the NFL.
"I think a lot of people get that mixed understanding of well, you know, they don't want any African American quarterbacks. But all of us now [are some] of the premier quarterbacks, regardless of what color their skin is."
Six black quarterbacks started for NFL teams in Week 10, a number considered ordinary these days. Black quarterbacks are more prevalent than they were 30 years ago, and the bond among them remains strong. Campbell, for instance, wears No. 17 like Doug Williams did for the Redskins when he became the first black quarterback to appear in a Super Bowl (and the only one to win).
"We're all working together," said Campbell, 24. "We talk about our performances and reaching out to other young African American quarterbacks and trying to get them in summer camps and trying to make sure they get their grades, and we want it to continue to carry on for us. So [Philadelphia's Donovan] McNabb and McNair and those guys look out for me and Vince and other young guys, and we try to continue the growth together."
McNair and Campbell also share an unassuming demeanor relative to some of the star athletes around them. On Monday, Ravens Coach Brian Billick lauded McNair's "quiet, calm confidence," saying it was a key reason Baltimore came back from 19 points down to beat Tennessee on Sunday. McNair sees that same poise in Campbell, especially in the way he carries himself away from football.
"As a person, he's so calm," McNair said. "He's well mannered, and he comes from a great family, a great background. All that is good working for you. He's a guy that you don't hear much about off the field. He's a guy that knows how to keep himself together."
In addition to race, McNair's relationship with Campbell took shape because of the proximity of their home towns. McNair grew up in Mount Olive, Miss., a town of approximately 1,000 that is a 30-minute drive west of Taylorsville, Campbell's home town. Larry Campbell, Jason's father, coached against McNair when McNair was an all-state quarterback at Mount Olive High School.
McNair eventually met Jason Campbell after becoming an established NFL quarterback. Campbell attended McNair's passing camp when he was in 10th grade, and their friendship blossomed. McNair said he "cherishes" the fact he met Campbell before he became a pro and was able to help guide him during his college career at Auburn.
"I felt like Jason was going to be a very good quarterback," McNair said, "because he had the size, the smartness and the skill to be that."
The news of Campbell's promotion took McNair back to the December day in 1995 when he made his first NFL start. Like Campbell, McNair's had to jump into the job after the season had started and amid the high expectations faced by first-round draft picks. But he overcame that pressure and led the Houston Oilers to a 23-6 win over the New York Jets.
McNair is confident Campbell eventually will find that same success.
"Over the years," McNair said, "he will develop into a great NFL quarterback."
Ravens Notes: Linebacker Ray Lewis's severely bruised back kept him out of practice Wednesday. He was not available to comment and was listed as questionable on the team's injury report. Linebacker Mike Smith (shoulder), Lewis's backup, will not play Sunday against Atlanta. . . .
The NFL has given the Ravens permission to mail playoff ticket order forms to their season ticket holders. Season ticket holders can expect to receive the form sometime next week, a team spokesman said.
Staff writer Jason La Canfora contributed to this report.