Snee: Mystery illness, family questions in past

It was more than Chris Snee ever imagined he'd be forced to confront and defeat in his indoctrination into the rough-and-tumble world of the NFL.

Sure, Snee knew that life in the big leagues would be more demanding than it was playing guard for Boston College. And sure, Snee understood he was no ordinary rookie, that his being the father of Tom Coughlin's grandson and later turning into Coughlin's son-in-law would pose, shall we say, unique challenges.

Snee believed he could have even dealt with the ordinary bumps and bruises that come with the territory of life in the trenches, the natural injuries that occur when oversized men collide with each other at furious speeds.

But Snee was not at all ready for the strange and frightening malady that hit him last season, an illness that confounded him, troubled his inner circle and forced his own head coach to juggle his feelings for player and family.

While Snee in the latter stages of his first year with the Giants was hospitalized with a strange and rare glandular infection, Coughlin would phone each morning, providing a crack-of-dawn wakeup call, and call again each night, his interest clearly accentuated by the fact that Snee was not only a prized rookie guard, but also his son-in-law. For the first time, Coughlin had to balance feelings for a player he needed and a young man who was married to his daughter and father to his grandson.

"I knew he was concerned,'' a robust-looking Snee said this past spring after an off-season workout. "I could definitely sense that.''

As he heads into his second NFL training camp, it is more than one year ago that Snee was selected by the Giants on the second round of the NFL Draft, a highly-regarded lineman from Boston College who filled a glaring need. It was a solid, unspectacular pick that caused barely a ripple, coming on the heels of the mega-deal that snared Eli Manning.

No ripple, that is, until it was revealed that Snee was the father of Coughlin's grandson. Of all the places for Snee to land. He and Katie Coughlin had a son, Dylan, while they were unmarried college students. They were married during his rookie season.

Given these relationships, Snee, as long as he's with the Giants, will never be just another player. Following the season, Snee and his family accompanied the Coughlins on a trip to Hawaii. Hanging on the beach with Tom Coughlin? What other player would ever receive such an invite? Still, looking back, Snee is relieved his familial situation is no longer a front-burner issue.

"It probably went better than I expected,'' Snee said. "I didn't know how some of the guys were. I didn't know if they were the type that would take it across the line and keep going with it or if they would just say their piece and let it die. Obviously I still get jokes now, once in a while.''

The main jokester, Snee said, was line-mate Rich Seubert, who missed all of last season because of a serious leg injury.

"It's the rookies that get all upset and get mad and pout, those are the guys you keep on doing it to,'' Seubert said. "Chris just kind of let it fly by. It's not fun making fun of guys who don't let it bother them.''

There was no hint of impropriety when Snee moved in as an immediate starter, as he clearly belonged on the field. However, he never made it to the field on Dec. 5 in Washington. He woke up in his hotel room with a monstrously swollen gland under his neck that made it impossible for him to turn his head or even put on his helmet.

The Giants medical team struggled to find answers, as Snee did not improve much from week to week, losing 20 pounds and feeling extremely weak as he missed the final five games. A barrage of antibiotics finally did the trick, but not before Coughlin found himself in the middle of a tense family situation.

"I sure did, because I had my daughter and my grandson on the one hand really concerned about husband and father, my wife concerned about her son-in-law, and I'm concerned, first of all, what the heck's wrong with him?'' Coughlin recalled. "Let's flip it over on the other side, I'm the football coach who looks at gosh, what a great opportunity this will be for this player to keep getting better because down the stretch he's gonna play against so many of these good teams, and then he doesn't play. Yeah, I definitely saw that from two different perspectives.''

Now healthy, Snee is back up to 320 pounds and better proportioned, a byproduct of the ordeal. "It really does my heart good to see him now, he looks great,'' Coughlin said.

The Giants view Snee as a future Pro Bowler and are eager to pair him with new right tackle Kareem McKenzie, imported from the Jets. "People are going to know we're gonna be running right,'' left tackle Luke Petitgout surmised. "I think with him and Snee and [David] Diehl pulling from left guard I might have an easy job in the run game. One of the easiest blocks as a left tackle is when you're running power right.''

Snee is eager to move forward, establish himself as a premier player, regardless of which family he married into.

"That's the thing that made me most upset, I missed the last five games of the season on something that wasn't football related,'' Snee said. "If I went out there and hurt my ankle or knee, fine, I hurt that playing football. The fact that it was just an illness that actually affected me so much, that bothered me a lot.

"Yeah, there was a time when I don't know if it was scared, but more frustrated because there was no diagnosis. It took a while for the tests to come back and I'm not a patient guy, I wanted to know and wanted to get back and play again.''

Offensive linemen being who they are, expect the razzing of Snee to continue, but not with the same bite as before. "Just observing, I think the linemen give each other the most grief, being a rookie and my relationship with coach, that brought it on more,'' Snee said. "You just have to prove you belong, I think I did that. I showed them I could play a little bit and it stopped.''

The jibes might actually give way to helpful suggestions.

"I always said he's got to hang a picture of his son up in his locker, to make coach Coughlin happy,'' Seubert said. "I told him to get a big ol' picture up there, so when coach Coughlin walks by and sees his grandson he smiles a little bit.''

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