EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –** On Saturday afternoon, 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 today 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 last season. But as the Giants progressed in their work this spring, it became evident to Snee that he would be unable to complete his comeback.
"Before OTAs started I was confident," Snee said. "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.
Giants Guard Chris Snee announced his retirement after 10 NFL seasons
"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, so I knew that even if I came here today, I wouldn't be able to practice. You're trying to catch up and I've been trying 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 last year.
"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 leaves 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 is entering his 11th season, now 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 last season, 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.
Diehl, who drove Manning to home games, retired in January. Now Snee, who sat near the quarterback on busses and planes and was one of his closest friends, is also gone.
"He called me yesterday and told me the news," Manning said. "I kind of knew there was a possibility with everything going on with his health. 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 is 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 didn't want to leave the Quest Center as a retired player, Snee today took solace in his many accomplishments.
"I am proud of where I am today," 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 going to be 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."
We look back at key milestones during Chris Snee's career as a member of the Giants which started in 2004.