For anyone who has ever even considered him- or- herself a K-State fan, the only right answer to this question is "going to Bill Snyder Family Stadium." Saturday truly marks the end of an era. Bill Snyder will stand on Wagner Field, headset on and clipboard in hand, for the very last time. It's only right that he makes his exit in front of a stadium with every seat filled by a purple-clad occupant.
It's difficult, almost painful, to imagine where this program might be without Snyder, and his success has correlated directly with more fans support. In the year 1 B.S. (Before Snyder, a.k.a. 1988) the Wildcats averaged a meager 20,975 fans per game. In 1999, 11 years, six bowl appearances and six Coach of the Year awards later, K-State drew over 51,000 fans each Saturday. Anyone who has every taken joy in a Wildcat victory has directly benefited from the fruit of hours upon hours of Snyder's labor.
Having grown up in the area, I can attest to the remarkable job Snyder accomplished in his 17 years. I remember attending games pre-bowl success or national recognition. There were no long lines to wait in to enter the stadium. Shuttles to the stadium and yard parking were not necessary; the lot was entirely sufficient.
The southwest corner of the stadium was, in essence, a playground for my friends and I. Instead of having to squeeze by six people to get to a seat, there were rows upon rows of empty bleachers, giving us plenty of room to run around. The only times we were ever even a blip on the radar of security folk was when we would attempt to sit or climb on the railing separating us from the field. For a young kid, times were great. For a Division 1 football program, not so much.
But then, things began to change. This team that was oft ridiculed put some wins together. A team that was considered a creampuff opponent began providing competition for Big 8 rivals.
In 1993, the Wildcats made the leap. An awkward 11-year-old, I remember living and dying with every snap that season. A transfer quarterback, a jitterbug runningback, and trio of receivers became idols to emulate at recess. Receiver Andre Coleman even provided a perfect summation of the season, toward the end of the Copper Bowl. Interviewed on the sidelines, Coleman statement was immediately recognizable, "Da-duh-duh, da-duh-duh," - the Sportscenter theme.
By 1995, Snyder and his squad had become an even greater part of so many lives in the area. I remember walking up the KSU Stadium steps in tears, after time had run out in K-State's loss to Colorado; a match-up of two top-ten teams. In retrospect, the crying was not merited. Not because it was "only a game," but because a few years before that no one would have ever dreamt Wildcats would be ranked at all, let alone seventh in the nation.
As years passed by, Snyder would be referred to as "Moses" and the author of the "greatest turnaround in college football history," but he never let it change him. A bowl victory or coaching award never made Snyder think he could devote any less time to his work. As I transitioned into high school and learning to drive, I learned there was really one constant in the city of Manhattan: if you drove by Vanier Football Complex, you would probably see Snyder's car parked out front.
I heard stories of 20-hour workdays where he'd only allow himself one meal, because he could not afford to waste any more time than that. Were they true? Who knows? I just knew the Wildcats were putting a consistently successful team on the field that was really fun to watch. A finely tuned, balanced offense combined with a staunch defense brought more and more fans out each Saturday.
Through the 1997 season, there was still one team Snyder had not been able to take down. The Nebraska Cornhuskers has beat the Cats 29 straight times, but there was a feeling around the Little Apple that the streak would end in 1998. I, like many fans, entered the season with November 14 circled on my calendar. A dominating defense led by a trio of all-league caliber linebackers and an offense quarterbacked by an emotional Heisman candidate got the Wildcats off and running to start the season. They had garnered a No. 1 ranking by the time Nebraska came to town and the streak fell on that November night.
The memories continued to pile up, and as I found myself in the student section in the past four years I witnessed some of the greatest times in the Snyder era. On December 6, 2003, I simply sat with a group of friends watching a dismantling of an "invincible" team, in awe of the whole situation.
Being so spoiled with success, it was easy to become disheartened the past two seasons. Nevertheless, the talk that the "sky was falling" and that Snyder didn't have what it took anymore is complete malarkey.
This is the man that made K-State football what it is today. With the dedication he has shown to this program, he deserves to go out the right way. Remember, Saturday is your last opportunity to see a coaching legend at work. Show up at Bill Snyder Family Stadium, and bring your friends, your parents, your siblings, your cousins, or even your paperboy. Better yet, if you're a parent, bring your kids and let them know they are seeing history in the making.