Tim McGraw: Clinging to underdog status

Singer-actor Tim McGraw.

CBS News

(CBS News) "I Like It, I Love It" was a giant hit for singer Tim McGraw, and though he's branched out into other fields, McGraw has never forgotten his country music roots. This morning he talks with Tracy Smith . . . For The Record:

It's a fairly common scene around Super Bowl time: Guys gather in the yard to toss a football. Only in this case, some of the players actually are pros, like Matt Hasselbeck from the Tennessee Titans.

And the friend who invited them to his farm outside Nashville is country star Tim McGraw.

Is he competitive? "I'm pretty competitive, I mean, in most things," McGraw told Smith. "But in these kind of things, I'm competitive, but I like to just have fun.

"I find when I get too competitive, something ends up getting hurt," he added.

It's not like Tim McGraw needs any more hits -- on the charts, that is. He's had 23 Billboard Country Number Ones.

And if that's not enough, he's a successful actor.

131986417.jpg

Tim McGraw and Faith Hill at the 45th annual CMA Awards, Nov. 9, 2011, in Nashville, Tenn.

Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

And did we forget to mention he's been married to Faith Hill, that other chart-topping singer, for more than 16 years?

Most of us would call ourselves superstars at this point. Tim McGraw has a different opinion, calling himself an underdog.

"I feel like that. I like to feel like an underdog. It may not be a healthy philosophy in the long run, but I feel like that I think I need to feel that way. I want to feel like I'm in a corner sometimes and need to fight my way out of it."

Fact is, Tim McGraw has always had to fight -- or at least work hard.

He was born in 1967 and raised, without much money, in and around Monroe, La., He grew up as Timmy Smith, thinking his stepfather, Horace Smith, was his real dad.

"See, he was really sort of a cowboy, redneck kind of truck driver," McGraw said. "I spent a lot of time in his truck listenin' to eight-track, probably six years old, five years old, hauling cotton seed across Louisiana and Texas."

But at age 11, while snooping in a closet for Christmas presents, Tim found his birth certificate.

"It said, 'Father: Frank Edwin McGraw. Occupation: Professional baseball player,'" he told Smith. "I knew who Tug McGraw was. I had his baseball card on my wall, yeah. So, I knew instantly who it was. But I don't think I could comprehend it."

His mother, Betty, reached out to Tug McGraw, but the baseball star wasn't eager to admit he was the father -- much less have a relationship with Tim.

"How did you not let that disappointment ruin your life?" asked Smith.

"Well, look, I had a great mom. I think one thing that I got from finding out that Tug was my father and seeing his success and the things that he did with his life, I think it flipped a switch in me I might not necessarily had had flipped."

In 1989, Tim -- who'd now taken on the name McGraw -- headed to Nashville. After three years of trying, he landed a record deal.

And it was a flop. But the label decided to give him one more chance...

"I felt like it was do-or-die," he said. "In fact, I'm surprised that I got a chance to do the second album. I think I sort of snuck in under the radar and did it without anybody paying attention until i got done."

"And then, they started paying attention," said Smith.

"Well, yeah, they paid attention close after that."

McGraw's "Indian Outlaw" hit big on both the country and pop charts. He had discovered his own, distinctive sound: rock 'n' roll music with undeniably country vocals.

"What do you think makes you, at heart, still country?" asked Smith.

"Well, a guy who was managing me a long time ago said that I couldn't go pop with an a** full of firecrackers because of my voice," he replied. "I always knew that I could do a lot of different styles of music, and my voice would always put it right back where it needs to be for me."

During the taping of a special for CMT Canada, he warmed-up with a song from the Eagles, "I Can't Tell You Why."

Tim's own love story could be one of his ballads. It started in 1996, when the opening act for his first big tour turned out to be a blonde from Mississippi named Faith.

"I remember the first picture I ever saw of her was in Billboard magazine," McGraw said. "I was in love then. When she was going to be my opening act, I was jittery about it."

They liked each other almost immediately, but didn't get serious until the night Yim took Faith for a drive in a borrowed red Jeep and asked her to commit. They got married a few months later.

On their 10th anniversary, Faith tracked down that red Jeep, and gave it to Tim.

"It means a lot," McGraw told Smith, warning, "I'm gonna get verklempt here!"

McGraw and Hill have continued touring together. Their 2007 Soul2Soul II tour remains the top-grossing country music tour of all time.

But their proudest collaboration is clearly their family.

"We have a three-day rule," McGaw said. "There's been a few weeks that got away from us throughout the years, but rarely are we apart for more than three days."

They have three daughters. And as he showed us when we pulled out the Tim and Faith collectibles, the man in the black hat is not too macho to play with dolls.

"You're gonna get me in so much trouble with all my friends," McGraw said.

Turns out, Tim McGraw -- the father and family man -- never gave up on his own dad. Tug and Tim eventually developed a friendship, and shortly after Tug died in 2004, Tim released "Live Like You Were Dying" -- another hit, and a parting message.

"When we recorded the song, we knew that there was something going on with that song," he said. "It was one of the great experiences I've had with recording music."

His soft side has made him a powerful actor. He played Gwyneth Paltrow's husband in "Country Strong," and co-starred with Sandra Bullock in "The Blind Side<" the true story of the Baltimore Ravens' Michael Oher (who'll be playing in tonight's Super Bowl).

But the role that surprised so many with its intensity was his performance in 2004's "Friday Night Lights."

"I read it and I thought, 'I know that guy,'" he told Smith. "He's a combination of guys that I can name right now that I grew up seeing in the dugout at baseball, on the sidelines of football, basketball games. Part of my stepdad a little bit."

The character also had a drinking problem, something McGraw admits to struggling with himself. He quit five years ago.

"Ultimately, I think I got to where I thought my girls were too old to see that," he said. "It had become a crutch for me to get over some shyness and to get over some reservedness that I had."

Today, as he's set to release a new album, Tim McGraw seems more relaxed than reserved -- a man who knows exactly who he is, and what he loves to do.

"People map their lives out with music. And they sort of have memories placed with music. And to be in a position to be able to do that for a living and make songs that people remember their lives by, that's something pretty special to be able to do."

       
For more info: