Snow in 1900 (from Michigan football team photograph)
|Date of birth||November 10, 1879|
|Place of birth||Detroit, Michigan, U.S.|
|Date of death||January 22, 1914(aged 34)|
|Place of death||Detroit, Michigan, U.S.|
|Height||5 ft 8 in (173 cm)|
|Weight||190 lb (86 kg)|
|High school||Central High School (Detroit)|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Awards||Rose Bowl Player of the Game (1902)|
Neil Worthington Snow (November 10, 1879 – January 22, 1914) gained renown as an all-around athlete at the University of Michigan from 1898–1902, where he competed in American football, baseball, track and field, and tennis. He was an All-American player in 1901, and was the Most Valuable Player in the 1902 Rose Bowl, where he scored five touchdowns. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1960.
Snow was born into a wealthy family in Detroit. At the University of Michigan, Snow was the captain of the football, baseball and track teams, and had the distinction of winning more varsity letters than any other man—four in baseball, four in football and three in track. At least one 1905 newspaper account reported that he also lettered in tennis. Various reports differ as to whether he received 10, 11, or 12 varsity letters at Michigan.
Snow played four seasons for the Michigan Wolverines football team (1898–1901) at the end and fullback positions. As a freshman, he started all ten games at the end position. The 1898 team went 10–0 and won Michigan's first Western Conference football championship, finishing the season with a 12–11 win over the University of Chicago that inspired Louis Elbel to write The Victors, Michigan's fight song. Elbel's lyric, "Champions of the West", refers to Michigan's having won the Western Conference championship for the first time in the school's history. Snow was also the captain of the 1900 team, but his fame grew as a result of his role on the 1901 team, considered by some the greatest Michigan football team of all time. In Fielding H. Yost's first year as coach, Michigan finished 11–0, did not allow a single point to be scored by an opposing team, and outscored its opponents 550–0. The 1901 Wolverines became known as the "point-a-minute" team, as their offensive production resulted in an average of one point being scored every minute. The 1901 team was invited to play in the first Rose Bowl game on January 1, 1902, a 49–0 win over Stanford. Snow scored five touchdowns in the 1902 Rose Bowl, as follows:
- Five-yard run for a touchdown in the first half for the games first points
- Two-yard run for a touchdown in the second half to extend Michigan's lead to 22–0
- Eight-yard run to extend the Michigan lead to 33–0
- Seventeen-yard run to extend the Michigan lead to 38–0
- Four-yard run to extend the lead to 44–0
Snow's five touchdowns and 25 points (touchdowns counted for five points) in the 1902 Rose Bowl is still the all-time Rose Bowl record. Snow was named the Most Valuable Player of the game when the award was created in 1953 and selections were made retroactively. Snow was also named an All-American by Caspar Whitney in the December 1901 issue of Collier's magazine—the only Western player named to the All-American team for 1901 and only the second player in Michigan history (William Cunningham was the first) to receive the honor. Whitney wrote: "To be fast, to break interference, and to be wise about the time of going in, make up the requisites of an end rusher, and all of these Snow possessed in a marked degree."
As a baseball player, Snow was an outfielder and a major contributor to two Western Conference championship teams. He batted over .390 in 1899 and over .320 in 1900. Snow was described as "a man of splendid physique and an especially good batter." His final game as a Wolverine baseball player was a 7–4 win over Cornell, in which Snow was responsible for six runs, including three RBIs on a bases-loaded triple.
At the conclusion of his collegiate athletic career, Snow reportedly "had all the makings of a great player" and was "besieged with offers" from professional baseball clubs, but had other plans, and "thus a star was lost from baseball." Horace Fogel of the New York Giants tried to entice Snow to play baseball for the National League team, asking Snow to name his price. Fogel's wire to Snow reportedly read, "What are your terms to play with New York", to which Snow replied tersely, "Am not on the market." Snow's father, Frank E. Snow, told a reporter at the time that, while his son had received "many fine offers" to play professional baseball, he would prefer his son "adopt something else as a means of making a livelihood."
Track and field
Snow also excelled in track and field. In 1902, he won the Western Conference high jump championship.
Snow's commitments to multiple sports placed a strain on his time. As a senior in 1902, Snow excelled in the shot put. Seeking to focus on the shot put, Snow resigned the captaincy of the baseball team in February 1902. At the time, Snow told a reporter:
"A captain ought to be on the field during all practice hours, and if I filled the position I would not feel at liberty to leave the diamond to go over and take coaching for a field event. Besides, I have college work that keeps me busy until 5 o'clock three times a week. I will do all I can for the baseball team, however, and there is nothing but good feelings between all the candidates."
In June 1905, Snow's younger brother broke his neck in an accident in switching sand cars at Hammond, Indiana. Newspaper accounts indicate that Neil Snow hurried to his brother's bedside at St. Margaret's hospital in Hammond.
Snow's principal career after college was with the Detroit Drill Twist Company, where he became the company's treasurer, general manager, and eventually its president. Snow continued to remain involved in sports and was a popular choice as an official for football games for the Eastern and Western schools. One writer noted: "The larger colleges in the East had come to realize with what great efficiency Neil Snow acted as an official and his services were eagerly sought."
Snow died suddenly in January 1914 at age 34. He became ill after a vigorous game of squash at the Detroit Racquet Club and was taken to the doctor's office, where he collapsed. At the time of Snow's death, noted American poet, Edgar A. Guest published the following poem as a tribute to Snow:
"The whistle sounds: The game is o'er! We pay tribute now with tears. Instead of smiling eyes and cheers.
Neil Snow has crossed the line once more
Life's scrimmage ends! A manly soul Now passes bravely through the night Undaunted still and Spotless White
Neil Snow has made another goal
The crowds depart. The setting sun Blazes his pathway to the west. The stamp of valor's on his breast.
Neil Snow the Master's M has won."
Snow's sudden death at age 34 was seen as a cautionary tale of "the great over-do it age." He was cited as proof that endless competition puts undue strain on the heart and nerves, with one article noting: "Snow was big and powerful and always in fine condition. Yet after a hard squash game he died in less than five minutes, where 20 minutes before he had seemed to be in perfect health."
Honors and accolades
In the popular 1916 book Football Days: Memories of the Game and of the Men Behind the Ball, William Hanford Edwards wrote the following about Snow:
"The University of Michigan never graduated a man who was more universally loved than Neil Snow. What he did and the way he did it has become a tradition at Michigan. He was idolized by every one who knew him. As a player and captain he set a wonderful example for his men to pattern after. He was a powerful player, possessing such determination and fortitude that he would go through a stone wall if he had to. He was their great all-around athlete; good in football, baseball and track. ...[W]hen I grew to know him, I soon realized how his great, quiet, modest, though wonderful personality, made everybody idolize him. Modesty was his most noticeable characteristic. He was always the last to talk of his own athletic achievements."
In 1907, The Washington Post named Snow one of the three greatest football players to have played in the West, along with Walter Eckersall and Willie Heston. The Post opined that Snow was an end quite worthy to rank with the great ends of the East and that he "was just the kind of man who would have been suited to the advanced requirements of the new game and its additional demand for alertness, in an end."
In 1916, the Oakland Tribune published an article ranking Snow as one of North America's greatest all-around athletes, naming Snow, Elmer Oliphant and Christy Mathewson as the runners-up to Jim Thorpe. The Tribune wrote of Snow:
"Undoubtedly one of the greatest was the late Neil Snow of Michigan. Snow stood as one of the great football players of the game. He was an all-American end and a great plunging full back. As a ball player he batted over .390 for Michigan his last two years and received at least three good offers from big league clubs. He was one of the best college first basemen that ever lived. On the track Snow could high jump around six feet; he could put the shot 45 feet; he was a fine hurdler. Taking both quality and quantity, we should say that Snow was the equal at least of any man that has been mentioned."
Sports writer Grantland Rice often wrote about Snow, ranking him as one of the three greatest all-around athletes ever turned out in college sport along with Jim Thorpe and Elmer Oliphant. Rice called Snow "a football marvel, hurdler, jumper and shot putter and one of the best ball players Michigan ever knew."
In 1960, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
- "His Career Is Ended: Young Man of Wealthy Family Probably Fatally Hurt While Acting as Brakeman on a Railway". Semi Weekly Reporter (Iowa). 1905-06-09.
- "Neil Snow Dies Suddenly: Famous Michigan All-Around Athlete Taken By Heart Disease". Indianapolis Star. 1914-01-24.
- "untitled". Sioux County Herald. 1905-08-30.
- Rich Adler (2004). Baseball at the University of Michigan, p. 41. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 0-7385-3221-5.
- William Hanford Edwards (1916). Football Days: Memories of the Game and of the Men Behind the Ball, p. 322.
- "University of Michigan Football All-American, William Cunningham, Center, 1898". The Regents of the University of Michigan. 2007-01-10.
- "1901 Football Team". University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library.
- "Hall of Famer: Neil Snow". College Football Hall of Fame.
- 2008 Rose Bowl Program, 2008 Rose Bowl. Accessed 26 January 2008.
- Frank Finch (1939-01-01). "Steamrollers in Moleskins". Los Angeles Times.
- "College Men In Baseball". Galveston County Daily News. 1905-08-13.
- "Fogel Dumped By Neil Snow: College Player Refused To Name His Own Figure As A Giant". Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette. 1902-06-09.
- Madej, Bruce (1997). Michigan: Champions of the West By Bruce Madej. Sport Publishing. ISBN 1-57167-115-3.
- "Neil Snow resigns As Coach: He Is Out for a Position on the Michigan Track Team". Post Standard. 1902-02-24.
- "untitled". Adrian Daily Telegram. 1903-11-10.
- "Former Gridiron Hero in Duluth. Neil W. Snow of Ann Arbor Team Says Gopher "U" Plays Game Right". The Duluth News Tribune. 1911-07-29.
- "Neil Snow Dead: Michigan's Famous Athlete Is Victim of Heart Failure". Atlanta Constitution. 1914-01-24.
- "Neil Snow". Oshkosh (reprinted from The Detroit Free Press). 1914-01-30.
- "The Correct Amount". Ogden Standard-Examiner. 1925-03-24.
- "Men Famed at Football". Washington Post. 1907-01-27.
- "Indian Thorpe Deserves Title of Greatest Athlete". Oakland Tribune. 1916-02-12.
- Grantland Rice (1922-05-24). "The Sportlight". Bridgeport Telegram.
- Grantland Rice (1924-03-04). "The Sportlight". Ogden Standard-Examiner.