Chris Snee reflects on career and plans for life after football

Posted Jan 29, 2015

Longtime Giants offensive lineman Chris Snee retired at the beginning of 2014 Training Camp

On the afternoon of July 19, 2014, Chris Snee drove to the Quest Diagnostics Training Center to sit down with Tom Coughlin and deliver a message that each knew was coming but neither wanted to hear. After 10 years as one of the finest offensive linemen in Giants history, Snee had decided to retire.

Snee announced the decision two days later as the Giants gathered to begin training camp in preparation for the 2014 season.

“I know it’s my time,” Snee said.

It is because the cumulative effect of several injuries, notably a surgically-repaired right elbow, precludes him from performing at his customary high level. For most of the offseason, Snee believed he would return to the field after playing in only three games in 2013. But as the Giants progressed in their work last spring, it became evident to Snee that he would be unable to complete his comeback.

“Before OTAs started I was confident,” Snee said at the time. “I was moving around great and I was strong enough where I felt that I could play and compete. But then once OTAs came around, I had to punch and stop somebody … obviously, we’re not wearing pads. I wasn’t able to do it. Quite frankly, it hurt.  But I thought maybe it was my joint getting used to that again. But the more I tried to do it, it became a concern to me that it wasn’t responding the way it should and actually my (elbow) strength had started to go down in the weight room.

“After those three days of OTAs, my hips (both of which have undergone surgery) were hurting. I was concerned. The elbow is an old joint and the cartilage is gone and the bone is starting to weaken. That being said, I came and I spoke to (general manager) Jerry Reese after OTAs and kind of told him what was coming. He said, ‘Take your time and still continue to work out.’ So I did that and my strength is still going down. That was an indication that I wasn’t strong enough to play. And that’s kind of what my game’s been based upon. I take tremendous pride in the effort that I put in the weight room and being the strongest player on the field. I’m nowhere near that. You’re trying to catch up and I tried to get my strength back, but I think it’s time to just let the arm cool down.

“I’m thankful to the Giants for giving me this opportunity to try to come back, but I also told them, I told Jerry Reese face-to-face, that I would give him an honest evaluation and I’m a man of my word. I would not be able to help the team the way that I expect of myself or the way that they would expect of me.”

Snee was a stalwart on the Giants teams that won Super Bowls XLII and XLVI. He was a four-time Pro Bowler and an All-Pro. Snee started all 141 regular-season games and 11 postseason games in which he played. He missed only 19 games in his 10 seasons, including 13 in 2013.

“I think Chris was everything you could ever hope for in a player: toughness, integrity, and a lot of pride,” Giants president and chief executive officer John Mara said. “Winning mattered to him. I think he set a great example for all of the other players. He’s somebody we’re going to miss very much. He was one of the greatest offensive linemen in Giants history, and he’ll be on that Ring of Honor someday.”

“Chris is a pro’s pro,” general manager Jerry Reese said. “He played the game right. He was as tough and prideful as they come. We will miss him.”

Snee was a Pro Bowler in 2008-10 and in 2012. He was a selected All-Pro in 2010. From 2005-11, he started 101 consecutive regular-season games (plus seven postseason games) before missing a game against Buffalo with a concussion.

“To me, he was the best guard in all of football,” Coughlin said. “No doubt. No matter who you put him against, all of the great defensive tackles in the game, the 350 (pound) guys, the 340 guys, he blocked them. When he first came here, he was so, so committed and so driven to excel at the professional level as he had excelled at the collegiate level (at Boston College).”

Snee’s retirement left the Giants with just three players with rings from each of their last two Super Bowl victories: Eli Manning, Zak DeOssie and Mathias Kiwanuka (who didn’t play in Super Bowl XLII because he was on injured reserve). Manning, who arrived with Snee in 2004 and just completed his 11th season, stands alone as the longest-tenured Giant. Kiwanuka, a nine-year Giant, is next in line.

“Chris has been a great Giant, on and off the field,” said team chairman Steve Tisch. “And that is the highest compliment we can pay somebody around here.”

Snee, who was one of the Giants’ five captains in 2013, was the last member of the terrific and popular offensive line that included Shaun O’Hara, Rich Seubert, David Diehl and Kareem McKenzie from 2006-2010. At one time, the group started 38 consecutive regular-season games, then the league’s longest streak.

Manning and Snee sat near each other on busses and planes and are close friends. The day before his announcement, Snee called Manning to share the retirement news.

“I kind of knew there was a possibility with everything going on with his health,” Manning said. “I’m obviously disappointed just because we’ve had a long run together. We came in the same year, were roommates for home games and away games that first year. We’ve won a lot of games and been through a lot together and been great pals, so I told him I’d miss him. He was the last one from our original class that came in together, but he’s got to do what’s best for him. I think he made a decision kind of based on how he’s feeling and also based on what’s best for the Giants. He’s a true team player and just didn’t think he was going to be able to help and wanted to put us in a situation where we kind of knew that early on. We’re going to definitely miss his leadership and his presence around the locker room, around the team, but we’ll still be great friends.”

Snee’s retirement was also a seminal transaction for Coughlin. In a coaching career that spans more than 40 years, Coughlin has had hundreds of players move on. But this is the first time one of those players is also his son-in-law and the father of three of his 11 grandchildren.

“It’s different,” Coughlin said, “because not only is it a great football player retiring from the game, who has contributed so much to our team and our franchise and has two world championships to show for it, he is a highly-respected and loved member of our family.

“The first time I met him I was with Jacksonville and I went up to Boston College (to scout a running back). Kate (his daughter) was a freshman at BC and I said, ‘Let’s have dinner tonight.’ She said, ‘Dad, can I bring a friend?’ It was Snee. He doesn’t say a word. Not one word that I can remember. You should see him with his kids. He’s unbelievable. He has really blossomed here.”

Although he misses the game, Snee finds solace in his many accomplishments.

“I am proud of where I am,” he said. “To come from a small town in Pennsylvania (Montrose) where nobody thought (he’d be an NFL player). When I said I wanted to play pro football at a young age, I was serious. And then when I played high school ball, I said, ‘I want to be the first guy from my high school to go to a Division 1 college,’ and I was able to do that. Along every step there were doubters, I’m sure that’s the case with everyone, I’m not trying to make my situation unique. I’ve always been a guy, I like to prove people wrong. I just always have been a guy who has had high goals for myself and really never satisfied until I get them. I’m extremely proud, but also extremely sad.”
Snee has three young sons at home. He isn’t certain exactly what he’ll do with all of the time he now has on his hands, but he would like to stay close to football – and the Giants.

“It’s weird,” Snee said of no longer playing. “I bought season tickets a couple years ago. I don’t think I’ll be ready to sit in those seats just yet – but yeah, I’ll be here. I still have some older friends remaining on the team and some of the young guys I’ve gotten to know. I’ll be rooting for them.”

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 that day 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. When Snee announced his retirement, Coughlin devoted 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.

During Snee's emotional news conference, he paused 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, 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.”