EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – On a Saturday in August 2004, the Giants hosted the Jets for a training camp practice at the University at Albany. The Giants’ offensive line was manhandled for two practices.
“The Jets kicked our butts all day,” Chris Snee, then a rookie guard, said today. The next day Tom Coughlin, the first-year coach who also happened to be Snee’s father-in-law, summoned him for a chat.
“He called me in and I thought for sure I was going to get yelled at for a poor scrimmage,” Snee said. “He just said, ‘We’re going to make a change up front, but I want you to know before I tell you this that you did not earn this, it’s just the other guy was that bad. You’re going to start.’ And I didn’t know how to handle it, I gave him a half-hearted thank you, but I didn’t know if that was a good thing or not.”
Turns out it was very good for the Giants and for Snee. He went on to start all 152 regular-season and postseason games in which he played at right guard, helped the team win two Super Bowls, was selected to four Pro Bowls and was a popular teammate and team leader. Snee today announced his retirement (primarily because of a balky elbow), prompting Coughlin to devote most of his training camp-opening news conference to the player with whom he has a unique relationship.
Coughlin was unclear on the timing of Snee’s permanent promotion, but he did recall some of the details.
“We bring him in and it takes you about five seconds to see that he’s the best lineman on the field,” Coughlin said. “But he’s young, so let’s keep him behind people for a while. So … I call him in and I sit him down and I said, ‘Chris, we’re going to move you to the starting right guard position.’ And this is what he quotes me as having said. I don’t remember it. He said I looked at him and I said, ‘You haven’t earned it and you don’t deserve it yet, but we’re moving you into the starting position anyway.’ It’s a good thing we did.”
That might be the biggest understatement of Coughlin’s career.
Earlier in the day, Snee held an emotional news conference at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center, where he had to pause several times to steady his emotions. Snee is such a formidable figure in recent Giants history that team president John Mara, who had told Snee he would someday be in the Giants Ring of Honor, stood and listened to the entire session.
“He was the quintessential Giant,” Mara said. “Everything you could ever ask for in a player. When you go to look at players in the draft or free agency, that’s what you’re looking for. Not only the ability but the toughness, integrity, shows up every day, model citizen off the field, winning matters to him, he takes it personally and he just sets a great example for the other 52 players. He is everything you want in a New York Giant.”
“He has done everything that you want in a man and in a football player,” Coughlin said. “You may say you’re not very objective about this. I’m not pleading my case for objectivity right now, I’m just telling you the quality of the man is greater than the quality and the ability of the football player, and that’s as good as it gets.”
Snee detailed his efforts to return to the field after injuries limited him to three games in 2013 and he subsequently underwent hip and elbow surgery. Early in the spring he thought returning to the field was likely, but as the offseason progressed it became obvious that was an impossible dream.
Now Snee is left to plan his post-playing life and to reflect on his decade with the Giants.
“It’s been an honor,” Snee said. “I couldn’t imagine playing for any other team. It’s a class organization. The fact that they gave me the opportunity this spring is exactly what I’m talking about when I mean ‘class organization.’ They didn’t have to. They also were prepared for this and have a lot of guys who can play, but I’m going to miss it. It’s going to be hard, it’s going to be a transition. But the fact that I had so many respected people tell me that they’re happy I made this decision made my mind rest. When I was still kind of going back and forth and struggling to throw a baseball with my son, it’s time.”
Snee wants to remain in football and said he hopes to get into coaching at the high school level. Coughlin has no doubt Snee will succeed at whatever he tries.
“I have been asked a thousand times by each one of you, one at time for all these years, ‘What’s it like to coach your son-in-law?’” Coughlin said. “I get it when I’m speaking in public or whatever I am doing. The question always has an edge to it, as if it’s something they want to hear me say is something that is difficult. Please, please Lord. I’ll take a hundred of him. If there are 53, I will take 53 of him, because you ask his teammates what they think about him. You ask the people who have been with him forever. Ask Eli really what he thinks about him. I think I am saying it exactly the way it is.”
Whatever he does, Snee will remain close to the Giants, physically and emotionally.
“I’m going to stay here,” he said. “This is home. My kids love the games. They’re going to want to come. I’m going to want to go. It’s going to be tough at first. But that’s the way life goes. It’s the end we want.”