Jan. 10, 2006
By Pete LaFleur
Former Notre Dame football All-America receiver Jack Snow died Monday night (Jan. 9) in St. Louis, following complications from a staph infection. The 62-year-old Snow – who served for the past 14 years as an NFL radio analyst for the Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams (the team for which he starred during an 11-year pro career) – had been readmitted to Barnes-Jewish Hospital shortly before Christmas and remained in critical condition during the past two weeks.
The Funeral Mass for Jack Snow will be held in St. Louis at St. Joseph’s Shrine, 11th & Biddle Streets, on Saturday, Jan. 14, at 11:00 a.m. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be sent to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
Snow forever will be remembered by Notre Dame fans for playing a lead role in the 1964 season that ushered in “The Era of Ara,” the 11-year coaching tenure of the legendary Ara Parseghian that included two national championships and a 95-17-4 record during that 11-year span. Snow combined with quarterback and fellow California native John Huarte to form the record-setting passing combination for the 1964 team that won its first nine games, rose to No. 1 in the national polls and came within minutes of completing a national-championship season before losing 20-17 at USC.
A lifelong Notre Dame fan who once remarked that it “took 20 seconds to decide whether to accept the scholarship offer,” Snow brought plenty of tools to the receiver position. A powerful presence at 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, the Long Beach, Calif., native owned many of Notre Dame’s team weightlifting records while also boasting excellent speed, smooth moves, clever route-running and soft hands.
Notre Dame’s aerial attack in Parseghian’s first season helped produce 27 team and individual records, including five set by Snow: receptions (60), receiving yards (1,114) and touchdown catches (9) in a season; receiving yards in a game (217, vs. Wisconsin); and career receiving yards (1,242). He more than doubled the old record for receiving yards in a season and racked up 19 more receptions in one season than any previous Notre Dame player.
Huarte went on to earn the 1964 Heisman Trophy and Snow finished fifth in the balloting for the prestigious award, behind Huarte, Tulsa quarterback Jerry Rhome, Illinois linebacker Dick Butkus and Michigan quarterback Bob Timberlake. Both Notre Dame stars finished high in the voting, above the likes of Gale Sayers, Craig Morton, Roger Staubach and Joe Namath. The duo of Huarte and Snow helped Notre Dame more than double its total offensive yards from the 1963 (1,980) to ’64 (4,014) seasons while producing more than triple the number of passing yards (654 to 2,105) and 41 total touchdowns, after the 1963 team had scored just 15.
Recent college football headlines – such as Huarte’s election to the College Football Hall of Fame and the record-setting success of 2005 Notre Dame receivers Jeff Samardzija and Maurice Stovall – had brought back memories of Snow’s historic 1964 season. Snow’s single-season receiving records for catches, yards and touchdows had been bested just once (the first two marks by Tom Gatewood, in 1970, while Derrick Mayes broke the TD record in ’94) in 40 years of Notre Dame football, prior to the 2005 season.
Jack Snow’s longtime connection with the L.A./St. Louis Rams included spending the past 14 seasons as the team’s radio analyst.
Parseghian made several key position switches in 1964 – when two-platoon football returned to the college game – and one of those timely shifts was moving Snow out of the backfield, where he had been a starting flankerback in ’63. Snow shed 15 pounds and emerged as a dangerous receiver who was set to burst onto the college football scene.
Snow entered his senior year on the heels of a dismal 1963 season that produced a 2-7 record and an unthinkable fifth straight season for the Irish without a winning record. The bar of expectations for 1964 was set low for traditional Notre Dame standards – “six-and-four in ’64” became a common catchphrase among the ND alums – as the Irish took the field playing for their third head coach in as many seasons.
Huarte and Snow quickly served notice that the Irish were back by spearheading the 31-7 rout at Wisconsin that vaulted Notre Dame to No. 9 in the AP poll. Snow hauled in a 61-yard bomb to open the scoring in that game and later produced a 42-yard touchdown to cap his nine-catch day. The Irish then climbed to the 6th, 4th and No. 2 spots after wins over Purdue (34-15), at Air Force (34-7) and back at home vs. UCLA (24-0). Two more wins over Stanford (28-6) and the Staubach-led Navy squad (40-0, in Philadelphia) preceded a 17-15 escape at Pittsburgh that pushed Notre Dame up to the No. 1 ranking for the first time in a decade. Snow latched onto eight Huarte passes in the win over Stanford and hauled in a 55-yard pass versus Navy, as the Irish knocked off a squad led by the 1963 Heisman Trophy winner.
John Huarte and Jack Snow combined to rewrite the Notre Dame record books during the 1964 season.
Two more wins followed over Michigan State (34-7) and Iowa (28-0), with Snow’s 16-yard TD catch helping Notre Dame beat MSU for the first time since ’54 while he added a 66-yard score versus the Hawkeyes. Snow closed his career by shaking off double teams to wrack up 10 catches for 158 yards in the heartbreaking loss at USC (20-17), preventing the Irish from claiming what would have been a storybook national championship (Notre Dame did not compete in postseason bowls at that time). Snow played a key role in the game’s first touchdown drive, a 74-yard march that saw the All-American make a 23-yard catch, scamper on a 10-yard draw and then score on a 22-yard reception for the 10-0 lead (USC later scored the winning TD with just 1:34 left to play).
Snow – who also averaged nearly 37 yards per kick as the 1964 team’s punter – was a central member of the ’64 senior class that helped launch Notre Dame on to future greatness, including national titles for the Parseghian-led teams in 1966 and ’73. His fellow 1963 backfield mates Paul Costa, Jim Snowden and Pete Duranko took their bigger frames to the offensive or defensive lines in ’64 while the two-platoon format left defensive lineman Alan Page and linebacker Jim Lynch free to focus on the start of their tremendous All-America careers as elite defensive players. The starting halfbacks in ’64 included Nick Eddy and Bill Wolski while Joe Farrell and Joe Kantor shared the fullback duties, with tight end Phil Sheridan going on to captain the ’65 team.
Huarte and Snow collected 1964 consensus All-America honors, with linebacker Jim Carroll, defensive back Tony Carey and defensive tackle Kevin Hardy also earning All-America recognition. The 1966 national championship team included a number of All-America performers whose careers were sparked by the magical 1964 season: Eddy, Hardy, Lynch, Page and two reserve offensive linemen from the ’64 squad (tackle Paul Seiler and center George Goeddeke).
Jack Snow finished fifth in the 1964 Heisman Trophy balloting and was one of two Notre Dame players ever to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards in a season prior to 2005.
Snow graduated in 1965 with a degree in sociology before embarking on his professional career. The Minnesota Vikings selected him in the first round (with the eighth overall pick) of the 1964 NFL draft but Snow was traded to the Los Angeles Rams and spent an 11-year career with the franchise (1965-75). He earned a starting job as a rookie and led the team in receiving three times during its heyday under coach George Allen, catching passes from Roman Gabriel.
Snow – whose biggest claim to fame was that he “never got caught from behind” when he was playing for the Rams – ranks fifth in Rams history for career receiving yards (6,012) and touchdown catches (45), plus seventh in receptions (340). He played in 150 games during an NFL career that included a Pro Bowl season in 1967 (28 rec. for 735 yds, 8 TDs) while his best overall season came in 1970, when he finished fifth in the NFL with 51 receptions and ninth in receiving yardage (859, plus 7 TDs).
Following his NFL career, Snow went into the real-estate business with college roommate Bob Arboit, in Newport Beach, Calif. He returned to the Rams as a receivers coach in 1982 and eventually landed in the announcer’s booth, beginning with the 1992 season. He was one of a handful of old L.A. Rams still employed by the Rams in the 2005 season, 11 years after their departure from southern California. Known for his unending love for the Rams organization and its players, Snow teamed with Rams play-by-play man Steve Savard during the past six seasons. Snow broadcast his final game on Nov. 20 and intended to work the Nov. 27 game in Houston – instead returning to St. Louis with the team after that game before being hospitalized. His condition eventually improved and he was able to move to a rehabilitation facility before suffering another setback shortly before Christmas.
Snow’s 11-year career with the Rams included a 1967 Pro Bowl season and a 1970 season in which he ranked fifth on the NFL receiving charts.
Snow was involved extensively in charity work throughout his adult life, including various programs sponsored by the St. Louis Rams such as the Angel Tree Holiday party, Football University, the Epilepsy Foundation and Bowl-a-RAMa, among others. During his playing days, he joined several other NFL players who spent 13 days in Vietnam during a 1970 goodwill trip, visiting with GIs in the field and in hospitals.
He also had a brief acting career, appearing in the movie Heaven Can Wait starring Warren Beatty and in an episode of the television show Bewitched.
Snow and his trademark vibrant personality were back in South Bend during April of 2001, for a Life Treatment Centers roast that honored Parseghian. He also had made a special return to campus in 1981 – at the invitation of head coach Gerry Faust, who had the Notre Dame legend provide some tips to the receiving corps during spring drills. At the time, Snow remarked that “the chance to give something back to the school was a great feeling.”
A three-sport star at Long Beach’s Saint Anthony’s High School, Snow totaled 10 varsity letters while competing in football, baseball and basketball. He was an all-state football lineman during his senior season and went on to post a .458 batting average as an all-city baseball performer.
Jack Thomas Snow was born Jan. 25, 1943, in Rock Springs, Wyo. He married his high school sweetheart Merry Carole Shane (named for her Christmas birthday) in 1965, with Merry Carole passing away in 1998 after an extended illness.
Snow is survived by daughters Michelle and Stephanie, and a son, J.T., as well as seven grandchildren. J.T. Snow was a star baseball player at Los Alamitos High School and the University of Arizona before embarking on his own professional career (starting in 1992) that most recently included nine seasons with the San Francisco Giants (the six-time Gold Glove first baseman recently signed with the Boston Red Sox).