I still can't get over it. Kansas State a contender. This is a story that has been told a million times over, but as a Big 8/Big XII fan, I still have to shake my head to realize that it's true. Kansas State is a good team.
I remember the Kansas/Kansas State game, one that was affectionately dubbed the "Toilet Bowl", where the Wildcats and Jayhawks battled for the Big 8 cellar. It was always a spirited game, but the best part of the whole contest was watching the blue and purple fans face-off in the stands just to see who was the best out of the worst two teams in the conference.
While Kansas had their brief brush with greatness, standing tall amongst the top ten in 1995, the Kansas State Wildcats under Bill Snyder proved that their rise to prominence wasn't a fluke, rather the precursor to glorious beginnings.
Or, that's what everyone thought.
What Snyder did was another story told ad nauseam, taking one of the worst college football programs of all time, making them a consistent, if not consistently respected winner. Big stats, lots of wins and almost a sure-thing bowl appearance every year.
From where Kansas State came from, this wasn't just success, it was momentous beyond reason. In Kansas, you could have called it the "Miracle in Manhattan".
And it was all Snyder's doing. Through obvious intelligence, Snyder coached well, but scheduled even better. Knowing that you don't build a team from nothing, he scheduled some of the biggest patsies you could find, giving KSU an automatic undefeated team going into conference play. That usually meant they were only three wins away from a bowl-bid, something that even KSU could accomplish at the time.
Success came with victories, but respect came with victories over teams that were used to beating up on the Wildcats year in and year out. You can just about name them and the Wildcats have a lifetime of payback to give.
KSU did that and has proven to be a thorn in the side of most that play them. And of course, the fans of KSU are living the good-life, better than some would have ever thought.
When Bill Snyder arrived at KSU, he was humble or at least, it appeared that way. Actually, when you are taking over THE Kansas State Wildcats, one of the greatest examples of futility in college football, you really don't have a choice but to be humble, because even if success is ahead, it's not instantly ahead. There's a long road to get there.
The head coach got them there though and along the way, the KSU fans have been rejoicing and continue to do so, Snyder's ego seemingly growing almost exponentially.
You can't blame the fans. After what most of the older ones have been through, their cheers should be loud, they should be boisterous, if only to be a release of an eternity of humiliations. The gridiron faithful finally had something to cheer about, so they did.
As the wins progressed, the status of one Bill Snyder grew. First, he was a person that brought a winning attitude to Manhattan. Next, he was a great coach who knew how to get it done consistently and was capable of building something out of nothing. After that, he was a savior, lofting the program to heights never dreamt of before. And now, he's right up there with any other deity of choice.
Snyder the invincible, Snyder the great and Bill, the God of modern Wildcat football.
All the while these accolades are coming in a deluge, the ego of Snyder has found itself ballooning to Zeppelin-like volume, this year being the latest, but best example.
He thinks he's special? Snyder must think that he is above the game.
Certainly, he must think he's above the conference after the lame excuse he gave as his reason for not attending this year's Big XII media day. Citing classes and practice as the reason he and his two players couldn't attend the event, Snyder once again proved that his attitude has grown beyond even the fans that have made him what he is.
No, they didn't make him a great coach. They made him a prima donna.
After all, I'm sure Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Nebraska, Baylor, Kansas and the rest of the Big XII teams somewhere on their campus have class, just like Kansas State. And, I am sure that though the KSU fans might not think that the fans of the other schools within the league have as much to win or lose as their Wildcats do, in there, I am positive that those other teams practice as well.
However, the time of Bill Snyder proved to be too significant for him to make his presence felt, rather he and his players showing up on TV, a broadcast by the way that was partially paid for by the very conference that Snyder just snubbed.
Really though, can you blame the head coach for being this vain? Can't you understand just why he is the way he is?
Kansas State went from the dredges to a team competing for a national title and it was mostly because of him. From the abyss to almost the brink of the peak on the mountain, Snyder did what some would have considered impossible had they not seen it for themselves.
The fans are crazy about him and rightly so.
I find the greatest irony though in that as much success as the program has had over the last 10+ years, evidently the fans' expectations haven't gotten significantly higher.
In Lincoln, fans are ready to hang Frank Solich, because in his last five years, Nebraska has won "just" one conference title and been to "only" on national title game. In Manhattan, KSU has no conference titles and hasn't played in single national title game during the tenure of Snyder, but he's still the next best thing to meat and potatoes.
While Oklahoma fans actually bristled from losses following a national title campaign, the Wildcat-faithful loom as prideful, lauding their plethora of moral victories.
I do say moral victories, because when it comes down to it, you would have an easier time trying to do a mammogram on Grace Jones than you would of finding a trophy that really meant anything in the "Mother Hubbard"-like trophy case, in tribute to Wildcat football.
Moral Victories seem to be the staple of Wildcats, but again, that's enough.
It's enough that the fan base for the Cats laud Snyder every chance they get. They worship good old "Bill" with accolades and are willing to back him with one excuse after another after one loss after another that kept KSU from the games most other teams think really matter.
Even this year where Kansas State is ranked in the pre-season top 5 and expectations upon the Wildcat team are once again very high, you know as well as I do that if KSU doesn't even win the North, Snyder is still the best, he's still the greatest and nothing and nobody can say different. All he has to do is win one meaningful game throughout the entire season and the Snyder-worshipers will be forever at his feet, wallowing in his perceived greatness.
That's why Bill is.........well, Bill.
He's simply a product, but not of his own success, or at least not what I would judge "real" success to be. Yes, Snyder did the impossible in his achievements, bringing KSU to national prominence after a century of national embarrassment. This is the sports world though, where it isn't about what tradition says you have done, but what have you "really" done. Take out the fluff, the moral victories and this "comeback" that was a stale story years ago and on paper, Snyder and his team qualify as an "also-ran".
Because of a fan base though that seems to still cling to the lowered expectations, a thought process ingrained by years of suffering, what Bill is, is the respite from anonymity. He is the difference between being pretty darn good and so bad that to even mention the team makes you grimace.
Arrogance should be considered almost inevitable when taking into account all these circumstances. Snyder's snubbing of media day and the obvious disrespect it shows for every other coach in the conference, heck, that's just fine with the Kansas State faithful.
So blinded by what success they have had, Snyder's presence has been elevated to autonomous, the University acknowledging that with every recent occurrence at Kansas State that's quickly brushed aside with statements like, "we are taking care of this matter internally".
And it will probably just get worse. I mean, he's already God down there, so where else can he go in this apparent adventure into egotism? I'll tell you what. There's only two directions here. It's either way up or way down, because when it comes to something like this, there is no other way.
Snyder will either win the national title or at least a conference title, once again justifying to everyone in purple that he actually IS the second-coming or his team will take an incredible nose-dive one day, close to, but probably not quite paralleling the depths of futility from days gone by.
Either one would be the worst thing that could ever happen to the head coach. Right now, he's worshiped. Win real big or lose real big and all of a sudden, everything changes.
If you win it all, now everyone expects it, KSU fans finally realizing what substance over style really means. They will actually be able to empathize with Husker fans, that are so used to winning, one conference title and a national title appearance in the last five years is deemed a failure. Snyder wouldn't have it so easy anymore.
If they lose and lose big, the honeymoon will also be over, because his luster will have wore off, his "magic" will have wasted away, nothing left for fans but reminiscing.
The best thing for Snyder and his ego are that KSU continues to win, but win just enough to placate the easily-placated fan base. A moral victory here and there and all is good in Manhattan and Bill can keep his chapel, stay on his soap box and make excuses for why he doesn't have to participate with others, because he's just that special.
In a world of sports where "Win just enough" shouldn't even be a possibility, it seems to be a by-line down in Kansas. That's what will keep head coach Bill Snyder right where he is.
He's Bill Snyder, the savior, the "Man in Manhattan", the Wizard of Oz even. He is the game? He's above the game.
Long Live Bill!
Steve Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-730-5619