Bill Snyder is considered a hero in most parts of Kansas, but as popular as he is, most people don’t mean that literally. They mean that he rescued the Kansas State football program from the sea floor of college football and got it to the point that it has been a national championship contender late in two seasons and has produced three Heisman Trophy candidates.
But somewhere out there is a man to whom Snyder is a hero even by the strictest definition.
In a column by Vahe Gregorian of the Kansas City Star, Snyder reveals that shortly after he took over at Kansas State in 1989, he interrupted a former player’s suicide attempt.
“There was a young guy in our program who tried to take his life during that period of time. Who had finished (playing), and it had such an impact on him,” Snyder told The Star. “Somebody told me about it, and I was able to find him. I didn’t know my way around here, and it was out by the lake, and off in one of those little park areas down there.
“And sure enough they guided me to him … and he was sitting in his car, and he’s got that hose wrapped around from the exhaust into the automobile, sitting there getting ready to give his life up.”
Snyder didn’t say who the player was, but it was surprising that he told the story at all. Outside of government and military agents, it is difficult to find anybody more committed to personal privacy and professional discretion than Snyder, who sometimes gives off the impression he’d prefer even the games be played in a windowless room the public isn’t allowed to enter.
But this is a man who has committed his life to eliminating every last inefficiency and disadvantage in one of the world’s most complicated games, and been really good at it. When he first retired in 2005, he spoke in regretful terms about the effect that level of focus had on his relationship with his family.
So you can understand his impulse to explain why winning at this game has been so important to him. The point of telling the story, he said, was to show that success and failure in sports actually are important. That player, see, was suicidal because the team was so bad that players were afraid to go out on weekends or to class.
“And to think that this silly game has that kind of an impact on the lives of young people,” Snyder said.
Well now, look, Snyder was there and we weren’t, but that feels a little reductive for a psychological issue as complicated as depression. And yet if the losing football even came up in the conversation, we can consider Snyder’s point to be successfully made.
The guy is doing well now, Snyder says. And so is Kansas State football. Both have Bill Snyder to thank for that.