“Are we all ready now?”
Bill Snyder was staring right at me. I was drenched in sweat and filled with anxiety.
“Yes,” I answered.
“OK,” the legend replied, his eyes still piercing my soul.
It was 2015 football media day, the first media event in the new Vanier Football Complex. I had pulled into the lot right outside Vanier off Kimball and attempted to enter the north doors, like we had at the old complex. They were locked. I was stunned. Terrified.
What if I’m late? What if I don’t make it? I was less than a year on the job covering K-State, and while I was doing my best to project the image of a consummate professional, my insides still melted into a giddy puddle each time I stepped near the complex.
I glanced to my right and saw a few people running up the hill to the west parking lot. I looked at my phone. I only had a few minutes but I could still make it if I could just find the entrance.
I descended the north stairs, crossed the lot, ascended the hill and turned toward the west fence. A gate was open. I ran. I glanced through the fence in my sprint and saw some people entering a door on the south side of Vanier. It was a ways away but I could still make it in time if I kept running. I made it in and attempted to look calm and cool, but it was August in Kansas. My forehead was glistening and parts of the front of my shirt were soaked through.
I turned the corner into the new auditorium. Coach was already seated at the table. Not great, but he wasn’t talking yet. I’d barely made it. I got out my tape recorder and went to turn it on. It was frozen. I’d have to restart it. It doesn’t take long—maybe 10 seconds—but this was Bill Snyder. Ten seconds of time wasted in his world is an eternity.
He stared at me the entire time. I set the recorder down and found a chair. He was still staring. I froze. He stayed silent locked his eyes on me for three or four seconds, but I’m pretty sure my life flashed before my eyes.
After a beat, he asked my permission to begin. Some media members laughed. The whole thing was captured on the KStateHD video. After that, I always made sure to pull into the lot no later than 15 minutes early. I didn’t want Bill’s ice cold glare shining any attention on me ever again.
I respect Bill. I’ve always had respect for him, from when I was 9 years old and watched K-State trounce Wyoming in the Copper Bowl right up until today. My first game in what is now Bill Snyder Family Stadium was watching Chad May and the Cats against Tommie Frazier-less Nebraska in 1994. Four years later, I didn’t listen to my mom when she told me not to run out on the field after K-State finally beat the Huskers. While the rest of my junior high classmates were reading the latest YA novels for reading credits, I opted for “Leadership Lessons from Bill Snyder.”
To me, his introductory press conference 30 years ago last Friday is on par with Lou Gehrig’s “Luckiest Man On The Face of The Earth” speech.
“The opportunity for the greatest turnaround in college football exists here today, and it’s not one to be taken lightly.”
I get goosebumps even typing those words.
When I lived in Manhattan, every once in a while, the same goosebumps would creep up while driving through town, realizing that a lot of the great development the city has enjoyed the past three decades wouldn’t be possible without Bill.
Without Bill, I may never have become a journalist. I started writing in junior high as a reaction to the news that my disability would never allow me to play football. Countless distractions could’ve led me down other career paths throughout my school years, but my love for K-State football—which likely wouldn’t have existed without Bill—kept me focused on my path.
In 2011, I wrote my first post on Bring On The Cats, where I called Bill “the most underrated coach in college football.” I was a dedicated fan. But things have changed.
Since 2014, the fan side of me has eroded quite a bit in the name of objective journalism. From my first interview with Bill to last week’s call for his retirement, I’ve had to learn how to examine K-State football with a critical eye. But that said, these past few weeks have been tough.
Now that Bill has retired, all I can do is cherish the memories of sitting in the stands in the 90s watching K-State grow into a national championship contender. The 1998 season was probably my favorite part of my late childhood, even though I was crushed at the end.
I can only reflect on how lucky I was to have been there that day, when Bill’s cold stare filled me with anxiety I hadn’t felt since my teacher gave me detention for the first time in elementary school. The time I spent covering K-State football was the best of my professional life. And for that, I can’t thank Bill enough.
We all should take time to bask in the memories of the Miracle In Manhattan while simultaneously preparing for what the new future holds. For some of us, it may be hard to move on. No matter what happens, K-State football will never be the same. Even some of us who have been waiting for this day have to admit it isn’t easy.
But each of us have to take a moment to ask ourselves the same question Bill asked me at 2015 media day.
Are we all ready now?