When Bill Snyder turned 16 years old, his father bought him a car. Not just any car. A yellow Mercury Monterey convertible.
Maybe it was out of guilt. Snyder's parents divorced when he was six; mother and son moved from Salina, Kan., to St. Joseph, Mo. Tom Snyder, a traveling salesman, ended up in Omaha, Neb., where he saw his son only occasionally and was not a big influence in his life.
You know what kind of status went with a yellow Mercury convertible in St. Joe in 1954? You know how hard it would be with that kind of ride to not act like the big man on campus of Lafayette High School?
We know him as the greatest football coach God ever made, architect of the Manhattan Miracle, and now he's got a sequel. Snyder is bringing his steely gaze and quiet voice and raw-boned Kansas State football team to Norman for a Saturday showdown against the Sooners.
Here in Big 12 country, we know Snyder as the all-consumed coach who doesn't give in to things like sleep or dinner, much less temptations like yellow convertibles.
But in 1954, Snyder still was a work in progress.
“I took the liberty of starting to hang out with friends and have my car, do all the things kids will do,” Snyder said. “Amazing car.”
The Snyder Rebellion lasted two weeks. Then the person who made Snyder everything he is today put the kibosh on it.
“After two weeks, my mother called my father,” Snyder said. “‘You come and get this car.'
“She took my car away from me. About two years later, she allowed me to buy a 1947 Chevrolet, from my grandfather, for $50.”
Lots of people along the way have helped Snyder fashion the greatest gridiron story ever told. Hayden Fry and Michael Bishop and KSU president emeritus Jon Wefald and the brothers Stoops.
But the person most responsible for Bill Snyder the man was Marionetta Snyder, a 4-foot-9 woman who never reached 100 pounds in her life.
“My mother was a fascinating person in my life,” Snyder said. “Toughest person I've ever known.”
The Little Apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Of all the traits that took Kansas State football from farce to force, toughness ranks No. 1. Outworking people. Dogged determination, even when you discover you've taken a destitute job.
Snyder has built his program around what he calls “16 Goals.”
Commitment. Unselfishness. Unity. Improvement. Toughness. Self-discipline. Great effort. Enthusiasm. Elimination of mistakes. Never giving up. Don't accept losing. No self-limitations. Expect to win. Consistency. Leadership. Responsibility.
“A lot is made around here of the 16 goals, the principles, the values,” Snyder said. “Those all came from my mother. Every single one of them.
“I would never cross her. She was as tough as anyone could be. She taught me so much about values.”
Marionetta Snyder worked 12 hours a day, six days a week at a downtown department store. The Snyders lived in a downtown apartment, because they couldn't afford a car and Marionetta didn't want to take the bus.
Bill slept on a Murphy bed, which pulls out from the wall. His mother slept on a cot.
“We lived six blocks from the YMCA,” Snyder said. “My mother made sure after school, after activities, I always went to the YMCA, so she always knew where I was.
“I was vulnerable. A young guy could have gotten himself into a lot of trouble.”
The Y and athletics kept Snyder grounded. He played ball on a sandlot near his apartment or on the brick streets of St. Joe. Swam at the Y.
There were worse places to be in the annals of time than St. Joseph, Mo., in the 1950s.
“It was really a significant time in my life,” Snyder said. “I enjoyed it. I had good friends. Nice community. Always around a lot of wonderful people that impacted my life.”
Walter Cronkite's daughter was one of Snyder's elementary school teachers. And 60 years later, Snyder recalls the men in St. Joe who influenced him.
His grandfather, George Owens. Basketball coach Richard Shroutt. Vice principal Basil Hohen. Football coaches Bob Matheson and Jerry Hampton.
Snyder eventually would go to the University of Missouri, transfer to William Jewell College and begin a coaching career that included a decade in California high schools before latching on with Fry, for whom he worked 13 years before taking the K-State job.
But it all started long before then, with a little woman who instilled in her son discipline and a work ethic and the understanding that responsibility extended to a yellow Mercury convertible.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.