The latest in the ESPN “30 for 30” documentary film series profiles a character not only sports, but of American culture.
The Legend of Jimmy “The Greek” looks at the life of Jimmy “the Greek” Snyder, a native of Steubenville, OH who survived the tragic death of his mother to make name for himself in sports handicapping. For 12 years (1976-1987) he served as an analyst on CBS’s NFL Today pregame show where he became a national phenomenon by selecting the winners of each week’s games. Jimmy “The Greek’s” career ended in 1988 after an infamous television interview where he made insensitive remarks concerning the make-up of African American athletes.
Producer/Director Fritz Mitchell worked with Jimmy “The Greek” as a researcher for NFL Today in the early 1980’s. He was first appalled at the sight of “The Greek” but soon found himself feeling a genuine affection for him.
Mitchell leads the film by recounting a celebrated spat between Jimmy “The Greek” and NFL Today host Brent Musburger. Following a telecast where “The Greek” felt he had not been given appropriate air time, he and Musburger got into a tussle at a local Manhattan bar. Unfortunately for the pair the scuffle made the next day’s edition of the New York Post. The incident proved as a catalyst for the rest of the film by portraying Jimmy”The Greek” as a truly polarizing figure.
Jimmy “The Greek” learned his knack of successful sports handicapping through working in underground gambling parlors in Steubenville. He came to prominence after famed writer Walter Winchell mentioned “The Greek’s” huge gambling windfall following a 1948 Notre Dame/Great Lakes football game 1n 1948.
Jimmy “The Greek” took his talents to Las Vegas where he built his sports handicapping empire . That reputation came to a halt in the late 1960’s when “The Greek” was convicted of felony interstate gambling. He paid a $10,000 fine and lost his business. He would re-emerge in Vegas a few years later by establishing a successful public relations firm.
After President Nixon pardoned him in 1974, the brand that was Jimmy “The Greek” came back to the forefront. His stock rose to its height by his hiring by CBS for the NFL Today in 1976.
Much of the film focused on his relationship with his NFL Today colleagues. Musburger, Phyllis George, and Irv Cross all recounted stories of tensions with “The Greek” on the NFL Today set. It became so contentious that at one point George and “The Greek” would never be seen live on the set at the same time.
Mitchell also detailed “The Greek’s” personal tragedies, from the death of his mother at the hand of his uncle when he was a youngster to the loss of three children to Cystic Fibrosis.
Mitchell did not dwell on the statements that ended “The Greek’s” career, other than to put it into context when it led to Jimmy “The Greek” becoming a recluse, returning to Las Vegas where he eventually gambled away his fortune. “The Greek” died of a hear attack in 1996.
The man and the myth that was “Jimmy the Greek” thrived and died in the limelight. The Legend of Jimmy “The Greek” is another ESPN offering well worth your time.
The Legend f Jimmy “The Greek” premieres tomorrow at 8pm on ESPN. The “30 for 30” series will then take a break and return in mid December.