It’s April 2002, New York. Chris Snow is riding shotgun in his car, and he’s sitting there, smiling and teetering, because he’s drunk. We had spent the day up north, exploring the city of Carthage and the town of Champion, where five of the best players in lacrosse history happened to grow up in backyards that connected. This was the kind of story that pushed us into storytelling, that grips curious minds and settles into souls.
We laughed for years about one moment from that day, a slice of normalcy on what felt, to us, like a big occasion, the weight of shaping a story that might resonate, especially with our crew of one-uppers at The Daily Orange. Larry Powell, father of three Syracuse lacrosse legends, had played tour guide at a local egg farm. These weren’t normal eggs. These were dinosaur eggs, large and round. “Triple yokers!” Larry shouted at one point, with a sort of childlike innocence that spiraled two college students into giggle fits.
We stopped at a local bar after the tour. Snow, if memory serves, downed six gin and tonics, after I offered to drive us back to campus. But while we drank, it started snowing. And while he drank more, the snow accumulated. While pulling onto Interstate 81, where we spent more time driving to and from games than we did in any classes, the car slid briefly in the snow.
Oh, the richness of the circumstances. The passenger in the car’s last name was Snow. He was from New England. He knew how to drive in such conditions. He was not driving. I was, and I was not from New England, and I turned to Snow and said, “This is the first time I’ve driven in snow.”
We made it back to campus, safe and sound. Snow, still inebriated, still went with me to 744 Ostrom, home of The Daily Orange, the place that shaped and humbled us, that felt massive and important but smaller than what we wanted, the critical step forward. Like being in some sort of journalist version of The Skulls for a bunch of nerdy weirdos who decided they wanted to spend their lives not writing about sports but about what sports meant. We sat down that night and wrote that story, wrote the s--- out of it, as we’d say back then. That was Snow: forever strong enough to help.
Wednesday morning, the text message I had been dreading landed. My mind went to that day, that night, that human. Snow, who was an assistant GM for the Calgary Flames, had spent the past couple years staring Lou Gehrig’s Disease down, working and raising kids and traveling; thriving, struggling, winning, losing, always upbeat and ball-busting on our college group chat. He had gone into cardiac arrest overnight. He was in intensive care. The prognosis isn’t good. Doctors didn’t expect him to wake up. Chris died on Saturday. His organs would be donated, his body studied for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) research. That was also Snow: strong, even at the end.
It’s sometime shortly after college graduations, early 2000s. I was in Boston to cover a Seahawks-Patriots game for The Seattle Times. Snow was still at The Boston Globe, and we met his father, my dear friend Bob, for dinner and beers somewhere downtown.
I loved Bob, a confidant and father figure. Syracuse was 3,000 miles from Tacoma, Wash., where I grew up. I could barely afford tuition, even with loans and family help, and I could only fly home twice a year, at the end of each semester. This meant Easters in New Jersey and Thanksgivings on Long Island and spring breaks in Westchester. Sometimes, I visited the Snows, where I’d go deep with Bob on life and sports and, sometimes, ALS. He checked in all the time. He read most everything that any ’Cuse alum from our crew wrote, the Jeff Passans and Michael Rothsteins and Pete Thamels and Connor Ennises and Eli Saslows and Chico Harlans and Darryl Slaters and Chris Carlsons and Adam Kilgores.
Bob did that even when ALS descended, same as it did for other relatives. Same as it did for Chris. A few months ago, his children, Cohen and Willa, sent me gray Calgary Flames hats, along with a handwritten note that reminded me of their parents, who have always embodied grace, even when life gave them every reason to rail against injustice and rage against genes and diseases and the worst kind of luck. Chris understood what he was up against. His mom died by suicide. ALS would claim three male Snows. It would also highlight what Chris showed a far wider world than anyone could ever have expected: strength.
It’s sometime in the early 2000s. Chris was living in St. Paul, working for the Minneapolis Star–Tribune, already in hockey, covering the Wild. I was in town to visit Koren Robinson, Seahawks wide receiver turned Viking. He blew the interview, or it seemed that way at the Snows for dinner. Chris tamped down my anxiety—Robinson, we’d later learn, was arrested on a DUI charge that day—and introduced me to Kelsie, who would become his wife.
Kelsie is also a writer, one of us, although “writer” in this instance vastly undersells. They don’t come stronger. The Snows built a family, despite their tragic understanding of ALS and the odds that Chris might have it; they showed their children unfathomable strength, under impossible circumstances. The best writing I’ve read in years came from Kelsie, on her blog, Sorry, I’m Sad, each post gutting and honest, at once profound and beautiful and sad.
Sports connected them. How they met. Where they lived. What they did. But while the Snow household penned no shortage of stories, the one they told through action and mindset and courage will live the longest. We always said that sports were every section of the paper in one place. I could say the same about the Snows, especially these past few years, after the diagnosis and the response and its resonance, after the hashtag #snowystrong spread and spread. Both of ’em.
It’s spring 2001, downtown Syracuse. Syracuse hoopers—Allen Griffin, Damone Brown and Preston Shumpert—are headed with us toward a youth center.
This trip feels heavy, laden with significance. While we had disabused all of Orange fandom, preaching objectivity and capital-J Journalism, these were still the most revered athletes on campus. Snow and I had combined required projects for separate second-degree tracts. By working together, we could spend more time at the DO. We brainstormed. We ideated. We partnered with the center and convinced the hoopers to come along.
One of us led each session. Typical themes: leadership, teamwork, loyalty. Then we’d head out to the courts. The players paced the kids through drills and split up teams for pick-up games. Snow couldn’t shoot for s---. He could run, though; he was athletic and, as would become achingly clear to a far bigger audience, determined.
That first day, Snow ran so hard for a loose ball he couldn’t stop his momentum and slammed his body into one basket. That was Chris, too. He did everything that way. He became a sports writer, just like the rest of it. But he rose faster, career pointed skyward, until the Wild hired him to work in their front office. They knew what we already understood. Snow wasn’t just strong; he was the strongest.
We befriended two kids from that center, J and G. They’d walk up the hill from downtown to my off-campus apartment after school (with, of course, the blessing of their parents). We’d take them to parks for pick-up basketball games; or Kimmel, for pizza slices or tacos; or to campus. At least when we weren’t deploying their squeaky voices to prank call all our friends.
We should have known. Snow’s strength would stick.
It’s Jan. 20, 2017, and I’m home in Kirkland, Wash., not yet aware that I will soon have a son. He will be born in about eight months, when a message pops up on Facebook Messenger. I blink in disbelief upon first read. Is this Greg from su who used to mentor me?? It’s from J. He’s no longer a kid.
His story unspools. He and G got to talking one day, did some Google sleuthing and, voilà, reconnection.
I see u did ya dream job that’s what’s up, J wrote.
He worked at the university. He also owned his own hot dog stand, Domed Dogs, which he operated before football and basketball games outside the Carrier Dome, where we spent half our lives, side by side, trying to figure this thing out.
I told him about Chris. I told Chris about him and G. Everybody lined up behind Snow, this ragtag crew tethered by brief, long-ago interactions. J and G asked about his health. Chris sent back “Hey-hey!” and “amazing!” Even as his health declined, as the muscles in his face failed him, as he struggled to talk and continued forward, upward, anyway—forever him. PK, one of my college roommates, wore a T-shirt to a hockey game near where he lives in Florida. On the back, two words in capital black letters screamed what we always knew, even in college, the phrase that became a slogan that signified the strength of this human and his remarkable fight. #SnowStrong. PK’s older brother, Joe K, bought stickers that announced the same. I put one Joe K gave me on my phone, where it remains, as a reminder and an inspiration and, I hope, an ethos. Only now, moving forward also means … without Chris.
It’s mid-July, 2023, MLB All-Star week, Seattle. An ideal convergence formed. PK was visiting with his son. Passan had become ESPN’s main baseball insider, annoyingly famous, but also headed into town. As were the Snows, invited by former NFL safety Steve Gleason—who was also diagnosed with ALS—and his generous family that adopted the Snows and their fight.
The Home Run Derby took place on July 10. Passan and I were covering. The Snows were set up in a suite on the 200 level of T-Mobile Park. While Passan bombarded American televisions with hair that needed a trim (which nearly stood on end, built out by PEDs and held up by industrial-strength product) I went over to say hello. We hugged and laughed and shared stories, same as we would again the next day, before and during the All-Star game, and the day after that, when the Snows were given a private tour of Climate Pledge Arena, home to the Kraken and his favorite sport. But on that first day of our glorious reunion, something about that initial encounter just didn’t feel right.
I bumped into Baseball Famous in the press box and told him I knew where the Snows were, that I had just seen them. “Let’s go,” he said.
We walked over. Surprised the Snows. Stood together, as Julio Rodriguez stepped into the batter’s box and launched bomb after bomb into the stands. It was electric, this moment, for the setting and the connective tissue and three lives that wound together and apart and together again, one final, magical time. We laughed, awestruck by the display in front of us, the kind of story the three of us had always chased, together, whether in Carthage or anywhere else. But we knew, at that moment and long before it, that the big, heavy, significant and important stuff wasn’t the stories that we told.
They felt smaller inside that ballpark, resonant but less so. Saslow keeps winning Pulitzers. Chico covers Rome. Thamel and Passan are never more than a TV click away. On Thursday, we’ll all be reunited in Calgary for a funeral. But it’s those dudes, what we taught each other, how we learned together, and that place, 744 Ostrom, this dump of a house that became a framed picture hanging prominently on so many office walls, that I carry with me. That I always will. Thank you for that Snow, for all of it.