The way Los Angeles Rams General Manager Les Snead figures it, he invented a form of fantasy football long before it became the craze.
When he was in high school in Eufaula, Ala., Snead used to skip class on the day of the NFL draft. He had Topps trading cards and he followed and second-guessed every move. His classmates, who were not bold enough to take the day off, would call him from the school pay phone in the late 1980s just to find out who their favorite team picked.
“Somewhere along the way I got this infatuation with this thing called drafting football players and I am fortunate enough to be able to do it now,” Snead said Monday from the Rams team hotel in Atlanta as they are preparing to play the New England Patriots Sunday in the Super Bowl.
Snead laughs when he thinks about it today.
“I always say, somewhere along the way, I had some version of fantasy football that I didn’t copyright,” Snead said. “If I had, I probably wouldn’t have to be doing this right now. I would be retired in Malibu rather than working there.”
It’s a long way from Eufaula to Malibu and it’s a long way from being a walk-on offensive lineman at Auburn University to the top of the football universe.
Snead, 48, has made the journey.
Snead was a high school offensive lineman who signed with Troy and transferred to Auburn where he walked on and earned special teams playing time.
Rodney Garner was a young Auburn coach when Snead showed up.
“Great kid, great worker,” Garner told AuburnTigers.com this week. “He was undersized but just a scrappy guy who loved Auburn, loved football. A true Auburn man. Didn’t get to play much but was just so appreciative. Any time he ever got a chance to get in a game, his momma always found me after, hugged me and thanked me.”
Garner and then Coach Wayne Hall lobbied to get Snead a graduate assistant slot after he graduated.
“Wayne Hall, Rodney Garner, Tommy Bowden — guys who were at Auburn at the time — sat me down and said, ‘Hey, I think we have a plan for you and we want you to be graduated assistant here at Auburn,” Snead said.
Snead turned that opportunity into football gold. In between making coffee runs and doing all of the menial tasks that fall on graduate assistants,
“I got to host the NFL scouts, GMs, directors of player personnel as they came into Auburn,” Snead said. “We had a good crop in those days and I got to meet a lot of decision makers. One thing led to another and here I am.”
His first job offer came from the Jacksonville Jaguars in the mid-1990s. That led to a player personnel job with the Falcons. Seven years ago, he was hired as the Rams general manager
Paul Mixon, who lives in Columbus and works at TSYS, and Les have been friends as long as either one of them can remember. They played backyard football together — in full pads.
As Mixon — they were roommates in Auburn when the Jacksonville job offer came — watch Snead prepare for the game’s biggest stage, he’s amazed.
“I feel like his timeline, with football inside of it, I somewhat watched it happen,” Mixon said. “From 8 years old to 48 years old, he’s learning how to throw a football to he’s hopefully going to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. It doesn’t get any better than that for a kid from a small town of 15,000.”
But it has happened.
“It’s college football. You certainly wouldn’t think of a Eufaula, Ala., native doing something in the NFL,” Snead said. “It’s Auburn or Alabama, one of the two.”
Not today, Eufaula is a Rams town for the Super Bowl.