As memories of the late, great NFL quarterback Steve McNair filled the airwaves this week, it became hard to forget the clashes he had for years against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Since his untimely death last Saturday, many have described McNair as the ultimate competitor and he was truly nothing but that.

It’s easy to hate or become frustrated with the opposing team’s quarterback as a fan of any NFL franchise — especially those within the division — but I never felt that way about McNair, who routinely made a mockery of Pittsburgh.

Before the NFL re-aligned its divisions prior to the 2002 season, the Steelers met with McNair’s Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans’ teams twice a season and it was always a pleasure to see him play.

In a game that has become more of a business than anything else as salaries continue to soar year in and year out, players who compete with the heart of a champion on each and every snap are few and far between.

McNair was always one of those few. He ran for touchdowns against the Steelers. He passed for touchdowns against the Steelers.

For a team like Pittsburgh that touts its stout defensive play each season, the Steelers could never find a game plan that could purge McNair’s talent or heart.

He wore that heart on his sleeve and played every down as if it would be his last. This was particularly evidenced by his final drive in Super Bowl XXXIV against the St. Louis Rams.

Though he and the Titans came up short — a single yard from winning to be exact — it’s still difficult to this day to call Tennessee or McNair losers of that game.

McNair meant a lot to the league and the Tennessee franchise as it established it self in its new Nashville home. If he isn’t a Hall of Famer, I’m not sure I know what one is.

I was shocked to hear of his death and even more shocked as I read about the events that led to his demise at only the age of 36.

As the Titans and Steelers meet on Sept. 10 to kickoff the 2009-10 season at Heinz Field, I hope the Steelers take the appropriate measures to honor McNair’s contributions to the community and his legacy to the game, the league, and the rivalry between the two franchises.

I know I won’t ever look at a Titans’ jersey without thinking about it.

— It’s not often that a sports statistic or fact completely blows me out of the water, but this one did this week: Tim Wakefield has never been an All-Star.

The soon to be 43-year-old righthanded Boston Red Sox pitcher will be making his first All-Star appearance Tuesday when he takes the mound for the American League.

Wakefield, along with Jason Marquis of the Colorado Rockies, leads the majors with 11 wins as of this weekend and hands down deserves to be the starter when AL manager Joe Maddon turns in his lineup card.

Exclusively a knuckleball pitcher, Wakefield has quietly put together a solid career and is approaching the 200-win plateau.

It’s hard to believe that this longtime pitcher was once the property of the Pittsburgh Pirates — though, not really when you look back at many of the moves the franchise has made in the past 20 years.

The Pirates actually released Wakefield in 1995 after a less-than-stellar campaign when demoted to the minors. The Red Sox signed him six days later and without qualms let him strut his stuff en route to becoming the all-time winningiest pitcher in Fenway Park history.

Patrick Connelly is sports editor at The Allied News and his column about Pittsburgh sports appears each Saturday.

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