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Chris Snee retires after 10 seasons and two Super Bowl titles with the Giants.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Offensive linemen don’t get stats. They don’t gain yards or score touchdowns or sack quarterbacks. Check out Chris Snee’s page on ESPN.com right here and, well, you don’t see a whole lot of information. But Snee makes a strong case as the best offensive lineman in New York Giants history. And on the occasion of his retirement Monday after 10 seasons, four Pro Bowl appearances and two Super Bowl titles with the Giants, it was clear that his legacy would live large in the memories of those who watched him up close.
“Strength, power, mental toughness, work ethic, the way he approached the game … he had everything you want,” former Giants offensive lineman David Diehl said in a phone interview Monday. “Sincerely, one of the best guards I’ve ever seen.”
You have to play guard at a pretty high level — and for a pretty long time — in the NFL to make the kind of imprint Snee made on the game. Monday afternoon, Giants owner John Mara said Snee was the first player he’d ever told, on the occasion of his retirement, that he would definitely be in the team’s Ring of Honor.
“We just have to figure out a date,” Mara said shortly before Snee came out to formally announce his retirement.
Mara recalled that 2004 draft, in which the Giants were making the big blockbuster deal to trade up for quarterback Eli Manning. He said there was a debate about whether to include that year’s second-round pick (No. 34 overall) or the 2005 first-rounder in the deal, and they ultimately decided to hold onto the 2004 second-rounder, “because we felt like it was going to be a real good player, and was it ever.”
Snee was that player, though at the time he was picked the bigger headline was about his relationship with Kate Coughlin, the daughter of Giants coach Tom Coughlin. Snee would end up marrying Kate and fathering three of Coughlin’s grandsons — creating a professional arrangement that could have been awkward but which both son-in-law and father-in-law discussed emotionally and lovingly Monday at its end.
“People say, ‘You’re not very objective about this.’ Well, I’m not pleading my case for objectivity right now,” Coughlin said. “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. People asked about coaching your son-in-law, ‘Is it hard?’ I’ll take 100 of them. If there’s 53, I’ll take 53 of him.”
Manning smiled Monday as he recalled coming into the league at the same time as Snee. Two quiet guys who didn’t say much, even to each other as they roomed together in camp and on the road that year, Manning and Snee ended up as part of the backbone of a team that won two Super Bowls. Manning said Snee took some grief early in his career for being the coach’s son-in-law, but that he handled it the best way anyone could.
“He became a dominant player,” Manning said. “And that helped him really take it in stride.”
Dominant. The best player on an offensive line that became a Giants calling card from 2006-10. Snee, Diehl, Shaun O’Hara, Rich Seubert and Kareem McKenzie quite famously started 38 games in a row at one point. They helped knock off the undefeated New England Patriots and win Super Bowl XLII. Diehl says he still has the copy of the January 12, 2009 ESPN the Magazine cover that pictured the five of them in a circle, looking down at the camera, under the headline “Are These Guys the NFL’s Real MVPs?”
“We wanted to be the leaders of our football team,” Diehl said. “We had a mentality that we were going to push for each other, work for each other and turn things around for the New York Giants. Chris embodied everything about that mentality. He did it quietly, but he lived it.”
Snee lists at 6-foot-3, 310 pounds, which makes him a large human being but not an especially large NFL guard. He fought the perception that he was undersized and did it by emphasizing strength and power in his game. Coughlin said Monday that Snee and former defensive tackle Linval Joseph regularly competed in the weight room for the title of strongest player on the team.
“People knocked him for his size, said he was short,” Diehl said. “But he had incredible strength, an ability to get under people on double teams, use his legs to move people off a spot and dictate the action. Just a tough, hard-nosed, hard-working football player.”
The incredibly physical way Snee played is likely the reason it’s over for him at 32. Both hips and his right elbow are shot to the point where he doesn’t feel he can play anymore, and after an offseason of trying to get himself in shape to do that, he figured out within the past couple of weeks that he could not.
“I have to admit that I can no longer play,” Snee said. “It’s a sad day, but once I leave here, I’ll be at peace with it.”
Snee is a guard, and as such he’s a guy who doesn’t get or seek a lot of attention. So Monday wasn’t easy. He broke down at the start of his retirement news conference Monday, and when it ended he gathered two of his sons in his arms as they cried. He said he’d have to “disappear” for a couple of weeks, but that he expected to return at some point this season to catch a practice and some games because his sons love it so much.
“This is home,” Snee said. “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.”
Snee said “everybody wants the Strahan ending,” referring to the fact that former Giant Michael Strahan’s final game was the Super Bowl XLII victory over the Patriots, but he’s OK with not getting that ending. He’ll wish his final game had been something better than the seven-sack mess the Giants delivered in Week 3 of 2013 in Carolina, but that’s not in his control. And if he listened to those who spoke around him Monday, he knows he doesn’t have to worry about that being a part of his legacy.
“As an offensive lineman, you don’t want the glory, you don’t want the fame,” Diehl said. “All you want is that ‘W’ for your team.”
The New York Giants won 89 games when Snee on the field from 2004 to 2012. Two of those 89 were Super Bowls. Offensive linemen don’t get stats, but they’ll take those. And if you’re wondering about Chris Snee’s legacy, it doesn’t need numbers. All you had to do Monday for proof of that was ask. Anybody.