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Snow's spirit will live on
By Bob Keisser, Sports Columnist
There were three things about Jack Snow that never really changed during his 62 years of life on the planet football: the short length of his hair, the huge smile on his face, and the massive sense of joy and fun in his soul.
Take a game at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum when the St. Anthony High product was a standout wide receiver with the Rams. This was during the Rams' heyday in the '70s when the home sidelines were littered with celebrities.
Snow caught a pass and couldn't slow down as he ran out-of-bounds, and he wound up crashing into actor Telly Savalas. So when he ran back to the huddle, he told his teammates, "I think I killed Kojak."
He also used to love reminding people that he had a small role in the Warren Beatty movie "Heaven Can Wait," and that it was the first time Beatty wasn't the best-looking man in a movie.
It is that kind of spirit that the world will miss with Snow's passing Monday night after losing a two-month battle with a vicious staph infection.
Few athletes can say they had a career in a sport as long as Snow and that impacted as many different communities Long Beach, St. Anthony, Notre Dame, the Rams of Los Angeles and St. Louis, the NFL, sportscasting, and even Major League Baseball.
Snow was a three-sport star at St. Anthony who won 10 letters in his high school career and was an All-CIF end and Long Beach's All-City lineman of the year in 1960 as a two-way player. He had 17 catches for 245 yards and five touchdowns that season, was a key player on the Saints' best-in-the-city defense, filled in at running back at times, and also handled kicking duties.
He was also a two-time All-City choice in baseball (1960 and 1961), hitting over .400 both seasons as a third baseman and outfielder. In his senior year, St. Anthony won the Catholic League titles in football, basketball and baseball.
"I knew Jack going back to grammar school and playing against each other in CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) games," said John Gonsalves, the former Long Beach State player and head coach, who played baseball and basketball with Snow at St. Anthony.
"Jack was a talented athlete from the beginning, but he was thin until he was a senior, when he started weight training and just blossomed. He became so big and strong in the upper body.
"He was just a fair baseball player but such a great athlete that he succeeded anyway, and he was a shooting guard in basketball. We had some pretty talented athletes back then Dave Adlesh, Homer Williams, Tyrone Price, Tommy Walsh but Jack was the best of them."
Rick Hayes, another classmate and a former baseball standout at Long Beach City College and Long Beach State, said Snow was as much of a leader and role model as he was a great athlete.
"He was just a dominant player in football," Hayes said. "But he was a leader in every sport he played. He took me under his wing when I was a sophomore, which is why it's such a personal loss."
Snow needed "just 20 seconds" to accept Notre Dame's football scholarship offer after his high school career. He had just 10 receptions, played a little defensive line and also punted his first two seasons. But he blossomed into an All-American in 1964, Ara Parseghian's first season as Notre Dame head coach.
Parseghian rebuilt the offensive attack around Snow and quarterback John Huarte. Snow had nine receptions and two long touchdowns in the season opener against Wisconsin to set the tone, and would finish with 60 receptions for 1,114 yards and nine touchdowns, smashing all of Notre Dame's single-season school records.
Notre Dame was 9-0 and ranked No. 1 in the nation heading into its finale against USC at the Coliseum, and Snow starred in his hometown, making 10 catches for 158 yards, including a 22-yard scoring catch on Notre Dame's first drive. USC would ruin Notre Dame's dream, scoring with 1:38 to go for a 20-17 win. Huarte went on to win the Heisman Trophy for his play, and Snow finished fifth in the balloting.
The Minnesota Vikings drafted Snow with the eighth pick in the first round of the 1965 draft but traded him to the Rams before the season for end Jim Phillips and lineman Gary Larsen.
Snow immediately became a starter and didn't miss a game for the next decade, becoming Roman Gabriel's favorite target and amassing 340 catches in his career. His greatest pride was his claim that he never got caught from behind and his lifelong association with the Rams.
"He was a great wide receiver, with a great attitude, and a great team guy," said Chuck Knox, Snow's coach his last three seasons (1973-75). "Jack could make the big catches over the middle. He had great hands and good speed. He was everything you would want in a player and person."
"He had the greatest hands of his generation," said Deacon Jones, the Rams' Hall of Fame defensive lineman. "You wouldn't talk about his speed, but he'd catch that slant pass over the middle and outrun a lot of guys who thought they were fast."
Dick Enberg, who became the voice of the Rams in 1966, thinks Snow's accomplishments were overlooked because he played in the NFL before the passing game exploded.
"He had the ability to make a move over the middle and turn it upfield, make the catch between defenders and cut," Enberg said. "If he was a player today, with the game favoring passing, he'd have ended his career with between 600 and 700 receptions. He was that good.
"He was also immensely proud of the fact that he was a Ram every day of his adult life."
Snow went into real estate after retiring but never cut his ties with the team. He also worked in the Rams' community service and charity departments and was an assistant coach in 1982. Snow, who began his broadcast career as an analyst on Long Beach State football games, became the Rams' analyst in 1992 and made the move to St. Louis with the club in 1995.
The early St. Louis portion of his life had some difficulties, although one wouldn't necessarily know it by Snow's demeanor. It was difficult leaving his hometown for St. Louis, but his dedication to the franchise won out and he quickly became a much-loved figure in St. Louis sportscasting.
He and his son J.T. Snow, also a three-sport star at Los Alamitos High School, were estranged for two years, then reunited when Merry Carol, Jack's wife and J.T.'s mom, became ill with cancer. Snow's high school sweetheart passed away in 1998.
His reborn bond with J.T. became subtext in the 2002 World Series, when the Giants and Angels met. J.T. Snow had a dazzling catch of a foul pop and a two-run home run to lead San Francisco to a 4-3 Game 1 win at Anaheim.
"I was more nervous watching J.T. play than I ever was as a player," Snow said then. "I used to have to leave the room when I watched (his postseason games) on television, I was so nervous."
J.T., one of the finest fielding first basemen ever and an Angel for four years (1993-96), credits his dad with the foundation of his baseball career, recalling endless days of fielding ground balls and his dad encouraging him to become a switch-hitter.
"There were a lot of expectations for me because of my dad," said J.T., who spent nine years with the Giants and just signed with Boston. "It wasn't easy, because if I did something well, people said I was supposed to because I was Jack Snow's son.
"But my dad did a good job sitting me down and explaining that whatever I do, my last name was always going to be Snow, and I just had to go out and ignore what people expected."
"Jack was a family man, dedicated," Gonsalves said. "He wanted to be with his family. It was the most important thing in his life. It was hard on him losing Merry Carol, but he was never happier than he was when J.T. went to the World Series."
To the very end, Snow remained a Ram. Years after his career was over, he would still attend training camp, put on sweats and work with the young Rams players. Several St. Louis Rams said Snow helped ease their transition into the NFL.
"Jack spent his whole life as a member of the NFL and Rams," said Joe Vitt, the Rams' interim head coach this season whose career dates back to the L.A. days. "He thought it was his responsibility to teach young guys what their role was in the NFL."
Snow became ill before a road trip in November and was rushed to Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis with a staph infection. He improved enough to be moved to a rehab facility and was expected to recover. But he suffered a relapse just before Christmas, and he was taken off a respirator Monday after an experimental antibiotic treatment didn't stop the infection.
Gonsalves and his wife visited Snow in St. Louis in November, six months after Snow had double hip replacement surgery. "Everything was fine," he said. "Jack looked great. He was as lean as ever, and very spirited. We reminisced about our youth, high school days, college days, watching his son play ball as a kid.
"I can't accept it when anyone dies young, but when it's a personal friend, someone who's more like a brother, it's very tough. The memory I'll keep is that last dinner in St. Louis, having fun and enjoying life, because that's how everyone knew Jack best."
:Bob Keisser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Re: More Snow............
Nice little biographical piece on our dear friend Jack Snow. Thanks, Mh-I