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Wednesday, December 11, 2002
Updated: December 12, 12:09 PM ET
Hidden heroes

By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist

And that, ladies, germs and alternative lifestyles, is why, in 2002, you want Stevie Air-licious McNair, and not Michael Vick, in your huddle, converting your third down, and high on your MVP ballot.

The Tennessee Titans are more Super Bowl likely than the Atlanta Falcons. McNair is as valuable to the Tites as Vick is to the Falcs. Since the Tites are better than the Falcs, McNair is more valuable.

Steve McNair
McNair can make defenders stop talking trash pretty darn fast.
It isn't so much that McNair has brought the Titans back to first place in the AFC South after a 1-4 start by ripping off eight out of nine. It isn't just that he brought the Tites from down double-digits in the fourth quarter against the Jints on the road, or then just last week savaged the Indy Colts' No. 2-ranked D, another Tony Dungy-schemed D machine, by hitting 19-of-23 to a collection of mundane receivers, and scrambling for crucial first downs against a divisional archrival, all while shucking and shedding big strong tacklers with bad intentions like so many dry husks of corn.

It's the fact he's done this while all busted up. Try it on you local QB for size sometimes. Tommy Maddox would have a heart attack if he tried to play with the injuries Steve McNair stoically endures. McNair has more heart by himself than some entire teams.

Howie Long used to marvel to me at the punishment a John Elway or a Warren Moon could take from him. It's the same with McNair today. He's the Throwback, more Real Deal than Holyfield. And not just because of his publicized sore ribs, or a turf toe that will never go away until he has it surgically repaired, amputed and replaced with a prosthetic psuedopod. It's also his back. It's also his neck. It's also his shredded and repaired rotator, tender leg muscles and whatever else he's stoically not telling us about.

Steve McNair
Air McNair doesn't have time for pain until the season is over.
"By the end of the year, everything hurts," McNair told me a while back, when I went to visit. He has a neck like a bullock and hands like a vise and a history of working for everything he ever got in his life. "Nothing you can do about it, but keep playing," McNair said, speaking of more than merely playing football.

He has, while other guys, including Young Master Vick last week, bailed. McNair is the least appreciated great player in the league.

Country Strong Stevie McNair is one Hidden NFL MVP.

Another would be McNair's ex-teammate, Iggle OT Jon Runyan. Runyan has graded out 13-0-1 this season against all opposition. People wonder how the Iggles have won with three different QBs. Runyan makes it easier by keeping the left edge rusher out of their laps. His run blocking turns Deuce Staley into Charlie Garner, and that takes some doing. Once Runyan paved road for McNair; they went to the Bowl together in '99, came within a yard of winning it.

Jon Runyan
Runyan makes any QB look good.
Runyan went on to Philly, and has since controlled and beat up on a quick, fast, hyped-up Tampa Bay defense almost singlehandedly.

Three times in a row!

All I know is, when you mention Jon Runyan, Warren Sapp gets real quiet. And that's the only time that happens, at least that we've noticed. They say Simeon Rice might be a Hidden MVP this year. And he is. As long as you don't line him opposite John Runyan ...

Who are your Hidden NFL MVPS? Submit them to Page 2, or to Ralpwiley@aol.com, either way at your own risk. If original and timely, they and you will be mentioned on this national website! Ridiculous submissions will of course be laughed out of town.

As an added bonus, you will not be otherwise rewarded.

In the meantime, amuse yourself with the projected interior thought processes, such as they are, of the NFL stars, in this, the Week 14 edition of NFL UTBs -- Uncensored Thought Balloons:

Ricky Williams
Pass the Paxil, Ricky's on a roll.
Ricky Williams, RB, Miami Dolphins -- "Wheeeee! What else can I say? Um, Plenty. I'm glib. I'm soft-spoken. My thighs are the size of the yellow flotation barrels in 'Jaws.' If only my hands weren't so tiny, the size of Richard Dreyfuss', or Ziggy Marley's; I'm tired of people swatting at them when I run. That hurts. I want to meet the King of Pop. We have much in common. Wonder if Norv has met him? I'm so happy now. They say I'm glowing. So. Who's got next? The Raiders? Well, I ain't no LaDanian. I do so love these pastels ... my secret desire, Suzy? ... interior design."

Brian Urlacher, LB, Chicago Bears -- "Shouldn't have been out there, I'm so busted up, but it was Monday Night, all your peers are watching -- if they aren't getting treatment, being prepped for surgery, getting waxed by some bimbo. Wish somebody would try to blame me for this mess. Can you say, 'projectile vomit'?"

Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis Colts -- "Durn, how'd Marvin drop that ball? C'mon, Marv, we got no margin for error. Now we get to go on to Cleveland, play the Browns, Official NFL Team of Science Fiction Endings. I'd put the Colts up on my shoulders, but my shoulders slope so bad the team just keeps rolling off."

Stevie McNair, QB, Tennessee Titans -- "My back hurts. Not real surprisin', since I got the weight of the whole team on it. Eddie George is built like Atlas. But he acts like the ball is heavy. Acts like either he can run hard, or he can carry the ball. Take your pick. Never mind, Eddie. I hate it when Coach Fisher looks at me with those puppy dog eyes and says, 'It's up to you, Steve.' Why can't it be up to Eddie, or Mase, or God, or Bud Adams' toupee?"

A.J. Feeley, QB, Philadelphia Eagles -- "The guys have been trying to name me. One of them suggested, 'Touchy.' You know, Touchy Feeley. I don't care for it. But since it was Dawkins who suggested it, I kept my mouth closed. Brian's so sensitive. And quite large. Who said Donovan could just get his job back? Well, I guess 115 million skins said so. Whatever happened to grunge? I saw a lot of it last week. Not real big in Philly, though. Strange town, Philly."

Mike Holmgren
Better not make enemies, your post-NFL life is right around the corner.
Mike Holmgren, coach, Seattle Seahawks -- "The media isn't so smart. They're just incessant. Like ants. Somehow I got out of that post-game presser without anybody asking me how I slept on A.J. Feeley, who went to Oregon, right under my nose ... the fools ..."

Jon Gruden, coach, Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- "F-bombing-away-A. Gotta clean that up. Gotta clean this up. Ain't gotta clean that defense up, though. Gotta send Dungy a Christmas card. All I can do to keep from laughing whenever the Glazers ask me about the game plan. I want to say, 'Only if you guys tell me about Santa's.' I mean, are they elves, Hobbits, and Santa's helpers, or what?"

Michael Vick, QB, Atlanta Falcons -- "Oh. I see, Simeon. Ouch. You were supposed to bite on that pump fake, Derrick. Oof. Where did you come from, Sapp? OK, OK, Mister Sapp. You can let go of me now, guys. Guys, lemme get on the bus ... please ... guys?"

LaDanian Tomlinson, RB, San Diego Chargers -- "I'll be picking silver and black stuffings out of my teefes all week, I know that."

Rich Gannon, QB, Oakland Raiders -- "They always protect their little team records in Miami. So they won't be giving me any 300 yards passing. That's why I'll be sending Charlie Garner up their backpedaling exhaust pipes. With these old slow WRs I got ... oh well, I suppose they'll be right at home in South Florida. Assisted living and all. I'm surprised Al didn't bring in Cris Carter, too. The Super Bowl would be a nice consolation. These old fartooties just might get me there, them and those young horses, Porter and Jolley ... tell me I'm not dreaming. You're not dreaming, Rich. Say, thanks, conscience ... I didn't know I had one."

Corey Dillon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals -- "My mind is a blank. My team is a blank. My town is a blank. Save me, Tom Jackson ..."

Rodney Peete, QB, Carolina Panthers -- "52 points! Doesn't matter against who. Smith, sick ----, beating up a practice squad guy to within an inch of his life. We won't forget ... wow ... Smith scored three TDs? ... you know, maybe the guy deserved to get beat up. Can't carry a grudge forever ... why would Holly say to give her some notice before I come visit her on location? Why is Eric Benet always hanging around my house ...? For counseling?"

Terrell Owens
The reason the third-person reference was invented.
Terrell Owens, WR, San Francisco 49ers -- "I am like Michael Jordan?! I am? Yes, I am! I will make them all love me. Love me! Love me g--dam it! Look! I can even kiss my own a--!"

Emmitt Smith, RB, Dallas Cowboys -- "Terrell Owens -- the Sick Years. And I mean Sick in all ways. Sick (as in great) ability. Sick (as in lunatic) mind. But the bastard just might get to the Bowl. God help us. Cowboys? What Cowboys? These ain't no Cowboys. And that (nodding to Campo bobblehead) definitely ain't no Cowboy coach. ALF makes better decisions than that ..."

Butch Davis, coach, Cleveland Browns -- "Aw, hail ... all's we got left is a Hail Mary ... it's good. Good? Good! OhmiGAWD! Tim, come back here, Tim! All is forgiven, you fabulous babe, you!"

Tom Coughlin, coach, Jacksonville Jaguars -- (babbles incoherently) "This is not The Bounty. This is not The Caine. I'm not a Navy guy. I'm an Army guy. Except in football. Loose lips sink ships. Who was that DB on that Hail Mary? Cut him ASAP. Wish I could go back to last Saturday and cut him ... strawberries."

Marshall Faulk, RB, St. Louis Rams -- "Time to play, 'Shut It Down.' We've got lovely parting gifts for all our quarterbacks."

Dante Hall, KR, Kansas City Chiefs -- "Who is this Dennis Franchione guy who left me a message, saying I could change my name, get back a year of eligibility at A&M, and get a raise?"

Drew Bledsoe, QB, Buffalo Bills -- "I didn't know Belichick was so deep in the recesses of my mind. Can't seem to get off on the guy. Maybe, if I think not of what I'm doing, but something innocuous. The mailman brings bills ... the mailman brings bills ... what am I doing? The game's over. The season's over. No way we leap over three teams, even if we win out. What's our head coach's name again? Yeah, him. Isn't he supposed to be a defensive coach? Never know it by me. Now Belichick, that's a defensive coach."

Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots -- "Drew this. And Drew this. And this, and this, and this. Maybe we'll get lucky and the Steelers will make the playoffs and we'll draw them again. They suck eggs. No thank you on the Raiders, though. Even though I'm a Bay Area guy. In my secret dreams, I'm a Raider. And a Niner. And a Raider. And a Niner. Better stop. I'm hyperventilating."

David Carr
Hey, if I throw for a 100 yards next week I'll be 10 times better.
David Carr, QB, Houston Texans -- "I threw for 10 yards. Ten ... freaking ... yards. But we won. Supposed to make everything all right. Well, it might everything all right for Aaron Glenn ..."

Tommy Maddox, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers -- "Aaron Glenn. There's a name I won't soon forget. He'd better not ever need blood from me. Must've been a tell, the way he jumped those slants. What was Plexiglass doing to give it away? I know I wasn't doing anything to give it away. I looked at him all the way, but that's no tell ..."

Tiki Barber, RB, New York Giants -- "Gimme the damn ball! Sometimes, anyway. You like me and Ronde's American Express commercial? Our wives like it. They don't like the girl, though."

Steve Spurrier, coach, Washington Redskins -- "Just forget the whole damn thing. We'll start over again next year. Hopefully ..."

Morty Mornhinweg, coach, Detroit Lions -- "We got screwed! No way that was a facemask! No way! Porcher made a good play on Jake! Admit it, Jake! Jake? The zebras screwed us over! Hello?! Marvin Lewis? Sure, he's up for the Michigan State job. What? He turned it down? But he's house-hunting in Bloomfield Hills. Why? Can't I guess? No ... I can't. Why is Tom Izzo looking at me like that? Mooch said he wouldn't come after my job. Denny Green? Well, he didn't promise, but he's got too much class to come after my ... what? Mr. Ford wants to see who? Me? Why? ... must talk to Spike ... Spike Millen ... his secretary says he's in a meeting. I'll call him later. Say, wait a minute. Spike doesn't do meetings ..."

Dave McGinnis, coach, Arizona Cardinals -- "Oh, well, I'll land on somebody's staff ... have to move the kids out of school ... and the little lady won't like the pay cut ... I hate this ... not my fault ... at least they didn't quit on me -- not this week anyway ... maybe I can get another year out of it ... I'm a bargain, at these prices, and Mr. Bidwell, he likes his bargains ... he sure does ... that he does."

Jim Haslett, coach, New Orleans Saints -- "Whenever I'm feeling down about our many injuries, I just force myself to think about the shape that Spurrier's in, and then I kinda smile to myself ..."

Brian Billick, coach, Baltimore Ravens -- "Crap. A bonanza of crap. A cornucopia of crap. Outslugged by the Saints. Three or four games could've gone the other way, and we'd be right there. Yeah, every coach can say that, Brian, but so? Every coach can't say it with the same fake sincerity that I have. Pittsburgh's crap. Cleveland's crap. Frankly, we're crap. But we're my crap."

Mike Shanahan
At this rate, my players will leave for a pro team, too.
Mike Shanahan, coach, Denver Broncos -- "Anybody else notice I have more than a passing resemblance to Coach K.? My mind is beginning to wander ... to Florida Gators ... but recruiting and a 50 percent pay cut and my vast loyalty will keep me here in Denver with these underachieving bums that I myself assembled." (sighs)

Herman Edwards, coach, New York Jets -- "I feel energized. I feel maximized. That's the time ... I feel like making love ... to youuu."

Daunte Culpepper, QB, Minnesota Vikings -- "OK, now I know what it's like, playing at night in Green Bay. It's like ... playing on the dark side of the moon. Hey, I'm from Florida. And I can't wait to get back there, either. Somebody in Florida must need a QB ..."

Brett Favre, QB, Green Bay Packers -- "How's it feel, being a Welcome mat, Vick? Been to Tampa myself this year. Nightmare, eh? I'm from Miss' sippi, Daunte. Saw it in your eyes, when that wind-chill hit those substanial hind quarters. Whole body starting jiggling. I'm used to it. I don't like it. I just act like I do. Hovan -- still a little turd, hollering at me in the tunnel after the game. I'm actually beginning to like the little pile of excrement. Who we got now? The Niners? Haven't they clinched too? Why are we even playing? Yeah. It means 169 starts in a row for me. Is that right? We don't care about personal records. No, not much we don't."

Ralph Wiley spent nine years at Sports Illustrated and wrote 28 cover stories on celebrity athletes. He is the author of several books, including "Best Seat in the House," with Spike Lee, "Born to Play: The Eric Davis Story," and "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir."