He’d already given the speech to his teammates and coaches. The announcement was confirmed. After 10 years in the NFL, Chris Snee was walking away.
But as he climbed to the top of a podium overlooking the practice fields he’d spent countless hours on, something changed. The smile left his face as realization set in. This made it official.
Snee began to speak, got a few words out, then the Giants’ iron man broke down.
“It’s a bitter-sweet day,” Snee said between tears, “But one that I really had no choice in. It’s no secret, I’m going to retire.”
He brought his hand to the crest of his nose and rubbed his eyes, took a deep breath and attempted to speak again. A few more words, then the giant hand came right back as his eyes welled with tears. He hung his head.
For the first time since he was drafted in 2004, Snee couldn’t do it anymore. His body had failed him. No time in the trainer’s room and no amount of ice could fix the physical tolls of a decade in a league where the average career lasts just over three years. It finally caught up to him. At 32 years old, Snee needed to hang up the cleats. The decision to walk away was one Snee knew was coming. After struggling to play baseball with his son, it was time. But that didn’t make this press conference any easier.
With every word Snee attempted to utter out, memories came flooding in. There were the locker room pranks he played on teammates with former Giants’ Rich Seubert, Shaun O’Hara, David Diehl and Kareem McKenzie. There were the two Super Bowl championships and four Pro Bowls, too.
Then there was also the memory of his last game as a Giant, a 38-0 defeat at the hands of the Carolina Panthers. Snee was removed from the game before its culmination and placed on injured reserve days later.
In the offseason, the former All-Pro guard had hip and elbow surgery and began rehab. Snee didn’t want that “Carolina game” to be the final time he stepped foot on the field as a member of the Giants.
“I sat down with (Giants general manager) Jerry Reese and told him my intentions,” Snee said. “I asked him if he thought I could still play and he said yes. He gave me the opportunity to work this spring and see if my body would hold up. It was doing great.”
Snee began the spring as a full participant in the Giants’ offseason conditioning program, but as the regular season neared ever close, so did the thought that his fairy tale ending would never come to fruition.
Snee’s elbow flared up, prohibiting him from working out. The one who once held the title as the strongest on the Giants saw that strength slipping away. What once made him arguably the NFL’s best guard was no long a talent in his repertoire.
Practice came and went as Snee remained stationed on the sideline. His signature No. 76 jersey was still seen on the field, but not in the huddle. The guard kept his helmet by his side as he watched practice as a spectator.
“In May it was great. I was feeling good,” Snee said. “Then it went south in a hurry. I was going to be honest like I said I would. I wouldn’t be able to play the game I would expect and wouldn’t have been proud of the product I put on the field.
“I let Jerry Reese know, probably at the end of June, what I was leaning towards doing and made it official a couple days ago.”
On Saturday, Snee took a trip to the Giants’ facilities with his family in tow. The group made their way to coach and father-in-law Tom Coughlin’s office where his son, Cooper, ran in to see his grandfather.
“I got this little tap on my back,”Coughlin said. “We visited for a couple minutes and then Chris asked if he could speak to me… and I knew.”
Coughlin then called Reese, along with owners John Mara and Steve Tisch. Snee, meanwhile, made a call of his own.
In 2004, Snee was the Giants’ second-round pick. Their first was quarterback Eli Manning. Throughout both of their rookie years, Manning and Snee were roommates, buss-mates and plane-mates. Their relationship grew over the years and the last thing Snee wanted was for Manning to find out when he arrived at the team’s practice facility on Monday.
So, on Sunday, Snee phoned his old friend.
“We’ve been through a lot together,” Snee said. “We have a special relationship. We’ve been through a lot, two championships and just becoming great friends by the end of this. I thought he had the right to know before everyone else did.”
When Snee was placed on the injured reserve last year and struggled this spring, Manning continued to tell himself it was just a bump in the road for Snee. At the end of the day, when Manning lined up under center it would be his friend just to his right when it counted. Whenever the thought of life without Snee came into his mind, Manning quickly pushed it back out. He didn’t want to think about it. Didn’t want to imagine it. But when his phone rang, there was something inside that told Manning this was it.
“I had a feeling that that might be what was coming,” Manning said. “You never really thought it would happen. I didn’t want to think about it happening because he’s been such a tremendous teammate and a great friend of mine.”
As Snee walks away, so too does the final piece of one of the greatest offensive lines assembled throughout the Giants’ history. For nearly five years, O’Hara, Diehl, Seubert and McKenzie paved the way for running backs while keeping defenders off Manning.
O’Hara and Seubert retired in 2010. McKenzie hung up the cleats in 2011 and David Diehl after last year.
“I heard from all of them,” Snee said. “That was a special group we had. One we should’ve cherished more when we were together. Those are my brothers. I thought that I would be able to hang on a little bit longer and they’re still living through me.
“Richie called me four times since midnight. He’s in California, so he’s not sleeping much. Shaun, the same, and Dave. We’ve always had each other’s back and that’s not going to change.”
In 2008, the group paved the way for two 1,000 yard running backs in the same season for the first time in Giants’ history. Brandon Jacobs rushed for 1,059 and Derrick Ward 1,025.
“We had fun,” Snee said. “It was just a fun group to be around, but also when we hit the field, it was work.”
While Snee admitted he’ll be taking some time off and enjoying an August where he doesn’t have to “strap on a helmet,” eventually he hopes to return to football as a coach. Maybe, on one of his son’s teams.
But whether it’s back to the gridiron or another adventure, Snee will be spending more time with his family. His wife, Kate, and sons, Dylan and Cooper, were on hand for Snee’s final press conference.
When Snee stepped off the podium, Cooper ran up to his dad and gave him a hug.
“How old are you now, Dad,” Cooper asked his father.
“Same age as yesterday, Buddy,” Snee said, laughing, before pulling him close again.
Chris Snee Interviews: Transcripts, audio, and video of New York Giants offensive guard Chris Snee discussing his retirement from the NFL are available from the following sources:
- Press Conference (Video)
- WFAN Radio (Audio)
- ESPN Radio (Audio)
- Giants.com Bob Papa Interview (Video)
John Mara and Tom Coughlin on Chris Snee: Transcripts and video clips of the following team officials discussing the retirement of Chris Snee are available from Giants.com:
— Shaun O'Hara (@ShaunOHara60) July 21, 2014