ESPN 30 FOR 30 SERIES: #6 ” The Legend Of Jimmy The Greek.”

  • DATE- NOVEMBER 10, 2009
  • GRADE: A
  • Today it is easy to forget how big Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder was from the mid 70’s to mid-80’s. He has become a forgotten figure or even worse is remembered for one bad moment which cost him his job and got him branded as a racist.
  • I grew up near Jimmy The Greek’s hometown of Steubenville- [also the home of Dean Martin- a neighbor of Jimmy’s growing up, Lincoln’s Secretary of State Edwin Stanton and Traci Lords} Jimmy was born Dimetrios Georgios Synodinos in 1918 to Greek immigrants. Steubenville a rough, blue collar town was also a wide open town when it came to vice and early on Jimmy became involved in the gambling businesses in town.
  • The documentary talks about the tragedies in Jimmy The Greek’s life- which started when he was only ten years old. His uncle who was estranged from Jimmy’s aunt- opened fire and killed not only the aunt but Jimmy’s mother. At age 10 he left his childhood behind. Decades later Jimmy and his wife had five children- three of which would die of cystic fibrosis.
  • His career as a gambler is chronicled in this doc- one of the big highlights came in 1948. He had said something to a sister about wanting to grow a mustache. The sister told him women don’t like mustaches. The 1948 Presidential Election was coming up- President Truman was unpopular and an underdog to Thomas Dewey- who had a mustache. With this in mind Jimmy put his money on Truman and came away with $170,000- a lot of money in 1948.
  • The biggest break in Jimmy’s career came in 1976 when CBS hired him for their The NFL Today pre-game show. This was the greatest pre-game show of all time. Brent Musburger, Jimmy The Greek, Phyllis George and Irv Cross– this was must see television for the football fan. Jimmy shined especially in the early years on the show. He knew how to market himself, he came across to the average person as a regular guy. He also had the great nickname- Jimmy The Greek- and he looked the part. Snyder would have a 12 year run on the show.
  • They do a great job in describing Jimmy’s character- he could be rough and gruff but also a teddy bear. He was a guy who kept things to himself. He was a very generous man. As far as money goes- it came and went. His philosophy was to live for today. Someone pointed out in the doc that he always liked to say at the end of a bad day- “That’s over with let’s go to tomorrow”- not a bad way of looking at it.
  • Jimmy was riding high- and in 1988 his contract at CBS was coming up for renewal. It looked like he would be brought back for a few more years- but he was also becoming more and more of a problem. His ego was getting bigger, he was getting harder to handle and also was not working as hard. He was having health problems and was slowing down. Also one of the keys to his success was the inside info he would have – the problem now his sources were getting older like he was. He was slipping. Then on Martin Luther King Day- he made some off the cuff remarks during a lunchtime interview- that blew up on him. He was talking about the black athlete – and he seemed to lose control of the situation and was going into territory that he wasn’t really qualified to speak on {one of Jimmy’s problems was- he was sensitive about his lack of education- and would at times try to come off as being more educated than he actually was.}- The interview went viral and CBS had no choice but to fire Jimmy The Greek. Irv Cross an African-American who worked with Jimmy on the NFL Today spoke on how Jimmy wasn’t a racist and defended him. Rev. Jesse Jackson at the time said he made unfortunate remarks but should be forgiven. But it was all over for Jimmy The Greek.
  • With the firing- in 1988- Jimmy may as well have just died right then. He would never work again- while he had made a lot of money in his life- he also spent a lot- he had nothing left. His health was failing, he gave up, became a hermit. He would even refer to himself at times as being ‘dead.” He would die at the age of 77 broke. At his funeral in Steubenville- the ones who were there with Jimmy when things were riding high were nowhere to be found. There was only a small gathering. He was a forgotten man. A sad thing is while Jimmy had his ups and downs all his life- after the firing at CBS- there was nothing left- no bouncing back it was all down.
  • The doc gives Jimmy big credit -on being the man who brought gambling to the forefront- to the middle class America. It is sad that one incident- obscures everything else about the man. For a period of time he was a larger than life figure.
  • I thought I knew a lot about Jimmy The Greek prior to first seeing this documentary- but the doc gave a lot of new insight into him. Jimmy’s old colleagues at CBS- Brent, Phyllis and Irv were all featured in the show- and gave a balanced portrait of the man- the good and bad. Dan Rather- also appears and has some very insightful comments- of course Dan knows about taking a fall himself.

8 responses to “ESPN 30 FOR 30’S- #6: “THE LEGEND OF JIMMY THE GREEK”

  1. I think they used his conversation to show him the door. Like Cosell, all things end. Today, or even a decade later, his comments and apology would have been accepted. Comedians and trash talkers say worse.

    • I agree- they were looking for a way to get him out the door- and he gave them a reason. Had he been on top of his game at the time- I think it would have been different. Woody Hayes also comes to mind- when he hit that Clemson player and they fired him Ohio State was given a gift. He was old and past his prime. If they had won a national championship I think they would have found a way to keep him. They wanted to get rid of him but he’d won national championships in the past, he was a legend. They had a problem and he solved it for them.

  2. I don’t recall exactly what he said but, I do recall watching it with my dad when he said it. Later, when the firing came, my dad was incensed. “He didn’t say anything wrong. He’s not racist.”

    Didn’t he comment along the line of…black men had powerful legs and made great runners or something? I’m having trouble remembering…

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