Nearly 20 years have passed since he jogged into position groups and stretched prior to his final home game at what was then known as KSU Stadium. It was Nov. 13, 1993. A crowd of 27,168 gathered in the stands in a venue absent of a large video board, a Ring of Honor and permanent seating in the north end zone.
The $3.3 million five-level press box wasn’t yet one-year-old. It would be many years before today’s current JumboTron, which measures 23 x 61 feet, would become a fixture. A serviceable sound system pelted out pregame songs in a prearranged order.
A school record-setting consensus All-American free safety named Jaime Mendez, who was about to play in his final home game against Missouri with a chance to help secure the Wildcats’ first bowl appearance since 1982, remembers those times well.
A beat, a tempo to every stretch, a message, and every movement on point — all under the watchful eye of Bill Snyder, who was posted at midfield in a purple windbreaker, an index finger massaging his lower lip, observing the warm-up routine.
And that day back in 1993, and in the final home game for Mendez, he racked up 10 tackles and one interception in a 31-21 win over the Tigers — a fitting final Manhattan memory for a legendary career and in the midst of the Wildcats’ breakout season.
That 1993 senior class never stepped foot on the field in a purple uniform again. But the music, man, the music lived on.
“It’s kind of funny to be doing a story on it,” Mendez said, “but the music is something we all kind of had a love-hate relationship with, all the players. You’re bringing up a lot of old memories. It’s been forever.”
As certain as daybreak, there were the songs, most of which were born before CDs, many that players unsuccessfully pleaded annually for swift retirement onto a dusty record shelf, but nevertheless songs that had their place and carried their own meaning with the lyrics that players, like so many other facets of this place, only years later would truly understand.
Within the many tales to be told about the 73-year-old Snyder, who’s credited with helping to bring a university, football program, and stadium to life, remains one facet that like so many others must be acknowledged, yet has gone largely untouched, when putting pen to paper on the legend.
It’s what’s commonly become known as Snyder Music.
Where the Streets Have No Name. Right Now. Days Like These. I Can’t Hold Back. New Sensation. One Vision. Thunderstruck.
The list goes on.
“There was ‘Thunderstruck,’ and it had that big drum solo, and I know I’m doing it a huge disservice, but it was like, ‘Na-na, NaNaNaaaa …. Thun-der!’” Mendez said. “The drums, that’s what always resonated in my head. I miss the camaraderie of being with my boys every single day. But yeah, that was special.”
All-American David Allen, the first player in NCAA history to return a punt for a touchdown in three straight games, and who was a part of four teams between 1997 and 2000 that each won 11 games and over the stretch went 26-1 at home, chuckles at the longstanding lifespan of Snyder Music.
“I remember ‘Right Now,’ and I remember hearing that song all the time,” Allen said. “It was the one song I can remember every time going out for warm-ups. It was always playing. Like everything else with Coach Snyder, you knew what you were going to get.
“It was a consistent, calming atmosphere that when you’re out there warming up, it would be there. Maybe the other team looked at it like, ‘What are they listening to? These guys are soft listening to this music.’ Then they’d go out there and get their butts kicked.”
Consider the same songs that Michael Bishop heard prior to helping defeat Nebraska in 1998 are largely the same ones that Jonathan Beasley heard prior to the Wildcats’ victory over Nebraska for the 2000 Big 12 North title. The songs that Darren Sproles warmed up to prior to rushing for a school-record 273 yards against Missouri in 2003 are basically the same ones Collin Klein warmed up to on the field prior to defeating Texas last December. The victory clinched the Big 12 Conference’s automatic bid in a Bowl Championship Series game and allowed the Wildcats to hoist the Big 12 trophy for the first time ever following a home football game.
Some might call it silly. Music? C’mon, man. Music? Really? But Ben Leber, the 2001 All-American linebacker who went on to enjoy a nine-year career in the NFL, finds a deeper meaning embedded within it all.
“I don’t know of any company, organization or team that could have probably pretty close to three generations of people — players — get together and know every song that we’ve all experienced at Kansas State,” Leber said. “The game has become faster and more intricate, and I feel the athletes in the next generation are more athletic than in the previous one. The common thing that’s kind of cool is if I was standing next to Collin Klein, I could probably start singing some words and he could jump right in and start singing them, too.
“That’s true. To draw the line right across through Snyder football, it’s those songs, whether they’re corny, inspirational or motivational.”
It’s consistent. It’s madness. And over the years, it’s become purple Solo-cup toting fans dangling legs from open tailgates, the aroma of meat wafting from grills, fans’ speakers blaring song after song in the Bill Snyder Family Stadium parking lot as if preparing themselves for a gridiron battle.
It’s pregame tradition. It’s a craze.
At last count, a total of 449 lettermen between 1993 and 2005, and in every home game since 2009, have heard basically the same tunes prior to football games played in Manhattan. A total of 5,187,373 attendees have heard the songs at least once during 114 home games under Snyder since 1993. As for those K-State fans that have arrived early at all of the Snyder home games since the Copper Bowl campaign? They’ve spent a total of 1 hour, 26 minutes and 6 seconds of their lives listening to Van Halen’s “Right Now” over the last 19 years.
So far, junior Tyler Lockett has listened to basically the same songs in 14 home games during his career as Kevin Lockett, his father, did during 26 home games between 1993 and 1996, and Aaron Lockett, his uncle, heard 33 times, including six times while sitting out as a redshirt in 1997.
There’s a reason for the music. Of course there is.
“Because I like it,” Snyder deadpanned in comedic tenor.
Snyder stands in a tan three-button suit and a white collared shirt absent of a tie inside a ballroom where the oldest active head coach in the Football Bowl Subdivision and back-to-back Big 12 Coach of the Year will speak to supporters at an alumni event in Manhattan. He poses for numerous photos and shakes tons of hands during the June event.
“If you listen to the songs,” Snyder continued, “there are certain things going on that could have an impact on young guys. It does on me, anyway.”
Informed that Mendez nearly two decades later still recalls the message within some of the tunes, Snyder smiles.
“Well,” he said, “so it’s not all for naught then.”
Snyder, 34-15 overall and 22-4 at home since his return in 2009, heard and saw a vastly different tune during his three-year hiatus from the sideline at K-State.
The lyrics to one song, under a first-time head coach, and inside the same stadium, a thumping tune that tested the limits of the woofers and patience of some longtime loyalists, went something like this: “Party like a rockstar.”
More times than not, there was no party on the field.
In Snyder’s first game back on the sideline in 2009, sophomore safety Tysyn Hartman jogged onto the field in front of a crowd of 50,750, the largest ever to witness a home-opener.
The game’s result — an underwhelming 21-17 win over Massachusetts — would become a one-line memory in the back of a media guide. But the music, man, the music spoke volumes to the consistency of the kingdom Snyder sought to rebuild.
In truth, the music, like so much else, was simply all Snyder knew.
For some K-State fans, it felt like home again.
Eventually, like everything else upon his return, Snyder’s ways grew on his new players.
“I get goose bumps right now just thinking about it,” said Hartman, who signed with the Kansas City Chiefs as an undrafted free agent in 2012. “I’m in Kansas City and playing with guys I used to play against and they make fun of the music, but they don’t understand. It really worked for us.”
But legendary like the man?
“I’m not sure that we wanted it to be legendary music, not by our choice,” Leber said. “‘Days Like These’ by Asia — Travis Ochs and Mark Simoneau and I still laugh about it. We still send texts to each other with lyrics of that song. It’ll just be something like, ‘I feel so good. I feel like I could move a mountain or two.’
“It’s forever burnt into our memory.”
Nick Leckey chilled to trance or electronic music on his CD player while sitting inside the locker room before games. The two-time All-American offensive lineman said it was his own way to “get into the zone” while several of his teammates relaxed nearby by listening to other various music genres.
“I didn’t want to snap the football 20 feet over Ell’s head or something like that,” Leckey said, “so I just listened to calm stuff to keep me ready and up.”
Position groups kept watch on the pregame clock inside the locker room before grabbing helmets and heading onto the field.
“I remember ‘Right Now’ was cool with the piano solo. That was definitely cool,” Leckey said. “It’s definitely a song I don’t have on my iPod, but if I hear it, I definitely think of putting on my pads and my mouthpiece, that’s for sure. It’s just one of those sensory triggers that gets me going. It really does.”
Hartman, a two-time team co-captain, recalls the player captains pleading with Snyder to amend the music. The captains presented him with a CD bearing 20 different proposed tracks harboring radio edits.
“I think one of the songs made it onto the music list that year in 2011, so we finally won a battle there, as short lived as it was, one song, three minutes long,” Hartman said. “It’s just his consistency. How many years has he been playing that music? Twenty? And it’s basically the same playlist. It goes back to his 16 goals. He lives for consistency.”
However, Snyder contends he has compromised somewhat through the seasons.
“I’ve listened to their songs and have utilized some of them,” he said. “Some of them are on there. Sometimes, some of the stuff that they’d like to listen to might have some connotation in it that you wouldn’t want to play, so I have to listen to it first.
“Outside of that, if they’re really into it, I’ll put it on there.”
Leckey remembers those preseason captains meetings with their head coach. One agenda item in particular featured minimal discussion.
“Every year, in captain and player representative meetings, we were like, ‘We’ve got to change it,’ and it was a really quick, ‘No,’” Leckey said. “Everybody tried to change it. But Coach Snyder is a man of schedule and everything is clockwork. You know what’s going to happen. You know how your week is laid out Sunday through Saturday.
“The music is just like the fact that Coach Snyder wears the dark suit and yellow tie. It’s consistent.”
There has been at least one instance when Snyder appeared displeased with the pregame music selection at an away game.
“I remember one game, and I can’t remember where we were at, but they were playing some music and Coach tried to get them to change the music or something,” Leckey said. “He was not a fan. They were playing some raunchy stuff, and he wasn’t having it. He tried to change it and obviously couldn’t.”
Asked to recall such a scenario, Snyder replied, “Well, I don’t recall it, but I’m sure if I heard it I would’ve done that, yeah. I don’t remember the incident, but I would’ve done that. That’s not out of the realm of possibility, certainly not.”
Leckey, whose seven-year NFL career featured stints with the Arizona Cardinals, St. Louis Rams and New Orleans Saints, admits, “I remember my first year in the league I cringed when I heard some songs during warm-ups. I thought (Saints head coach) Sean Payton was really cool. He kind of let the vets pick the music, and I could care less. I know we had some rap, and I thought it was awesome. Then some of the guys picked one song and I was thinking, ‘Wow, Coach Snyder would not be feeling this music right now.’”
Love it or hate it, Leckey does maintain a soft spot of sorts when he hears Snyder Music.
“You know it’s game time when you hear that,” he said. “When I hear it, I’m ready to start warming up and going through my footwork. It’s all a part of the master plan, and a part of the family mentality, too. All the songs carry a message.”
Leckey recalls one addition in particular with the implementation of Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train,” which coupled with a computer-generated Willie Wildcat, began a new tradition in 2002 in helping usher players onto the field amid the roar of a locomotive and a horn’s blast prior to kickoff.
“Crazy Train” by Osbourne, “Stand Up For the Champions” by Right Said Fred, and “Proud of The House We Built” by Brooks & Dunn are featured among the latest additions to the pregame pageantry.
Make no mistake: During warm-ups it’s all business.
“For him, it’s just about repetition and routine and just knowing what you do well and doing it great,” Leber said. “He boils it down into everything, whether it’s music, practice time, or the way he watches film or recruits, he has a system, a method, and even if you don’t understand it, it makes sense to him.”
And it’ll continue as Snyder embarks on his 22nd season as K-State head coach in 2013. “Right Now” will blare inside a 50,000-capacity stadium as K-State opens its season against North Dakota State on Aug. 30 and the program unveils its $75 million West Stadium Center during a national telecast.
“He’s not worried about being hip and he’s not worried about keeping up with the times,” Allen said. “For him, it’s what works, so why change it? It’s been that way since he got there. He’s done it his way for more than 20 years. You look at the teams, then he retires and then comes back and the same music comes back as well. It’s a testament that if guys buy in, it’s the same success. Nothing changes. The schedules are the same, the meals are the same, the pregame music is the same.
“He’s the same.”
“You know what you’re going to listen to Saturdays at Kansas State,” he said. “If you want something different, go get ready for a road game.”