Kansas State finished the 2016 regular season with an 8-4 record. In the final two weeks, head coach Bill Snyder picked up career wins 200 and 201, but for K-State fans like me, it’s more than just a number.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t alive or can’t remember a lot of them, but I’ve seen all the memorable moments and have heard stories from people like my dad. Thanks to YouTube, I’ve watched Snyder’s introductory press conference many times. “The opportunity for the greatest turn around in college football exists here today and it’s not one to be taken lightly,” Snyder said. He certainly did not take it lightly.
My father was a freshman at K-State in 1989 and was fortunate to witness Snyder’s first win, a 20-17 victory over North Texas State. He saw quarterback Carl Straw drop back to pass and find wide receiver Frank Hernandez in the end zone for the win. Hearing the words, “HE GOT IT! HE GOT IT! HE GOT!” will always give me chills.
Fast-forward to 1993 and Snyder had Kansas State in a bowl game. Just a few years before, K-State was the worst team in the country with not a glimmer of hope. Now the Wildcats were nationally ranked and in the Copper Bowl. I can’t count how many times as a kid I watched highlights on a VHS tape of K-State’s 52-17 win over Wyoming in that bowl game. Not to mention the incredible pre-game intro, which you should check out if you haven’t seen it.
1998 was a special year. Texas running back Ricky Williams was on another level that year, he rushed for 2,124 yards on the season. He had to run roughshod against every team, right? Not against the Wildcats though, as Snyder and his defense were on an even higher level. K-State held Williams to 43 yards on 25 carries on the day. Not bad for a guy who won the Heisman. Next, Kansas State beat Nebraska 40-30, their first win over the Huskers in what seemed like forever. The images of linebacker Travis Ochs nearly ripping quarterback Eric Crouch’s head off and the goalposts coming down will forever be branded in my mind.
And oh man, remember how close the Wildcats were to a national championship? The Wildcats ran the table until the Big 12 Championship game, where they fell to Texas A&M, 36-33, in double overtime. A sad moment for Wildcat nation.
Then in 2003, in my mind, Snyder’s greatest win and one of the most improbable upsets occurred. Kansas State vs. No. 1 Oklahoma, a team that was being dubbed as “the greatest team in history” before the game. Nobody in the world gave the Wildcats a chance. But that’s when Snyder is at his best. K-State didn’t just win; the Wildcats embarrassed the Sooners. The Heisman-winning quarterback Jason White couldn’t do anything against the Wildcats. Quarterback Ell Roberson and running back Darren Sproles ran all over the Sooners en route to a 35-7 win and Snyder’s first Big 12 Championship.
The first game I actually remember was Snyder’s last game in his first stint against Missouri. I was a little upset watching it, as my dad got to go to the game and I didn’t. That didn’t break my spirit though, as I watched K-State fight the whole way. Then linebacker Brandon Archer gave me one of my top-five favorite plays of all time. Missouri quarterback Brad Smith rolled out of the pocket trying to make something out of nothing. I can still hear Wyatt’s Thompson’s voice to this day, “Intercepted by Archer!” What a moment, Archer returned it all the way for a touchdown, “And this place is going nuts!”
Snyder turned one of the worst college football teams into one of the most consistently good teams. After Ron Prince took the program back a few steps during his time here, as if he hadn’t done enough already, Snyder came back and did it again. Like he’s said many times, he came because of the people, stayed because of the people and came back because of the people.
It took Snyder a few years to get things going, as he was getting acclimated to the cards he was dealt and waiting to bring his players in, going 13-12 in his first two years.
In his third season back, Snyder put the Wildcats back on the pedestal. He led the team to a 10-3 record and a berth in the Cotton Bowl. The team was ranked as high as No. 10 that year. That was also the first bowl game I attended, finally giving me a firsthand look at how well K-State fans travel in appreciation of Snyder and the team. This year’s Texas Bowl in Houston will be the fifth out of six bowls I’ve attended since that game.
2012 was a fun, but also heartbreaking, year as a fan. K-State made it all the way to No. 1 in the BCS rankings, a moment I will forever cherish seeing the purple on top. As a fan, I was on cloud nine. Nothing was going to stop us on our way to our first national championship. That’s what I thought at least, until we ran into Baylor. That was probably one of the saddest moments of my life, along with many other die-hard Wildcat fans. My family was about to book hotel rooms for the national championship, but had that, along with our hearts, ripped away from us.
In 2016, Snyder coached with the same passion as he did in 1989. He led a young, inexperienced team to an 8-4 record and a trip to the Texas Bowl, the seventh straight year the Wildcats have been to a bowl game.
A lot of people look at Snyder’s accomplishments and are impressed. But there’s also people like me, who look at Snyder’s 201 wins and see it as something more. I see it as 201 opportunities to be thankful. If he didn’t take the job in 1989, what would have happened to the Wildcats? Odds are they would not be a Division I college football team, if they even would’ve had a team at all. No other coach could have done what Snyder did. Not Nick Saban, not Bo Schembechler and not even Bear Bryant. As former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer said, “Bill Snyder isn’t the coach of the year and he isn’t the coach of the decade. He’s the coach of the century.”
Coach Snyder, what you have done for this program, university, state, my family and countless other families cannot be described in words. On behalf of the K-State family and myself, thank you.