EUFAULA, Ala. (WRBL) — When Super Bowl LVI kicks off Sunday night in Los Angeles, there will be an undeniable Chattahoochee Valley presence. 

LA Rams General Manager Les Snead grew up in Eufaula. And that’s where his football journey from small-town kid to Super Bowl executive began.

It all started in a neighbor’s backyard with a bunch of childhood friends who sat down recently to talk about their buddy – “Kool-Aid.”

“He had a red stain on his lip,” said childhood buddy Paul Mixon. “It would be there all day. So, somebody called him Kool-Aid, and it kind of stuck.” 

When you reach the big time – and make no mistake Snead is at the top of his profession – there is always someone who knows where you came from. 

And what your nickname was. 

Mixon, Randall Wilder, Archie Grubb, Clint Sparks, and Cody Sparks could not be prouder of the cotton-topped kid that ran the streets of Eufaula with them.

A few months ago, Grubb was in LA for a Rams game. Snead set him up with good seats. And it was in that suite he realized the guy he knew as a kid hasn’t changed much.

“His UPS man was in the suite,” Grubb said. “I guarantee you he knows the names of the people who clean up the building. The people that answer the phone. He has never let this go to his head that he’s above anybody. He’s the most down-to-earth guy and that’s a great quality. And I think it has also helped him be successful.” 

Football was at the center of those early days in the mid-1980s. The first kids of the ESPN generation lived and breathed football. But they played every sport.

“If it was was warm outside, we were playing something,” said Clint Sparks.

But football was the first love and the Backyard Football League was born. 

“I can’t imagine being where I am at, loving sports, being passionate about football without whatever people like  Randall engineered there,” Snead said via a video call with his buddies. “That doesn’t happen. That’s a good Netflix show.” 

It could easily be a documentary. 

The stadium was Alice Jane Sims’ backyard on Randolph Street, less than 50 yards from the main drag where thousands of cars pass on the way to and from the Gulf of Mexico. 

Grubb was one of the younger participants.

“We moved into these apartments right next to Alice Jane’s house,” Grubb said. “I was in kindergarten and I would see these boys out playing that were older than me. I was, hey, I want to be a part of that. So, that’s how Coach Grubb came about right there.”

Sometimes he was the head coach. Other times he was the offensive coordinator.

“We had the locker room and I had that treehouse that Daddy had built in the backyard that kind of oversaw the Sims’ backyard,” Mixon said. “We would be practicing and somehow I would look up there and Archie would be up there like Bear Bryant overseeing our practice.” 

This wasn’t just backyard two-hand touch pickup football. They had full pads when their beloved Eufaula High Tigers threw some old equipment away. 

“I don’t know how it got done,” Snead said during an appearance on The Chuck Williams Show. “We built locker rooms. We had full pads. There were high school helmets from schools across the Wiregrass. Not sure how we got them. I am sure it was legal, above board.” 

Grubb, now a Columbus attorney, says the statute of limitations has run. 

“One neighbor’s doghouse that was dismantled Sunday morning when the neighbor was at church to provide some of the materials for the locker room,” he said, laughing at the memory.

He remembers whose doghouse was torn apart,

“It was Mrs. Barron,” he said. “I don’t think she had the dog anymore, so in our view it was unnecessary.” 

They even had homecoming. 

“My sister Paige was the homecoming queen,” he said. “We had halftime and somebody escorted her out. We gave her some flowers. … And she also played … And she went back into the house and we finished the second half.” 

And they wanted to be just like their Friday night heroes. 

“Eufaula High used to play right up here,” Mixon said. “And they wore those tear-away jerseys. Every Friday, we would all be at those games. And every Friday we would all be on the field. They would start throwing those jerseys out and we made sure we got ‘em. And if you got a Lee Hollingsworth jersey you struck gold. 23. And that Saturday everybody had their tear-away jersey on. The first play of the game it got shredded. And you cried. He tore my Lee Hollingsworth jersey.” 

They were also watching the college and NFL games closely, trying to imitate those in the big leagues. 

“Frank, Paul, and Les would be on a team. Frank would be running for a touchdown, and he would kind of do that little Erick Dickerson thing. He would be yelling ‘Erik Dickerson.’ And Les would be running across the field yelling ‘Erik Dickerson.’” 

Even then the boys could tell Les was looking at the game in a way that exceeded his years. 

By the time Snead reached high school, he was skipping class to watch the NFL Draft. This was long before the draft went primetime. Back in the ’80s, the draft was a daytime affair during the week.

“When you think back to then and tell the stories of he’s skipping school to go watch the draft because it was in the middle of the day on Thursday and nobody really covered it but ESPN,” Cody Sparks said. “… I don’t know how long he’s been in the league now, but he’s been doing his current job for 40 years. He’s doing the draft now, but he was following it as closely as ever back then.” 

Ironically, Snead was a Rams fan.

“The interesting thing about Les from that time is he was kind of an SMU fan when they had that James Gang thing going,” Grubb said. “And he became a big Eric Dickerson fan. So, when Eric Dickerson went to the Rams, Les was probably the only Rams fan anywhere in these parts then. So, it’s kind of cool that he is now with the Rams because he grew up as a Rams fan.” 

Mixon pulled for the Steelers and he remembers one draft in particular.

“I remember in the high school lunchroom I would call him,” Mixon said. “I like the Steelers. ‘Have they picked yet? Have they picked yet?’And he would say, ‘Yeah, they just got Rod Woodson out of Purdue.” I was excited.”

As these men, now in their 40s and 50s walked through Alice Jane’s old backyard last week, they realized that time has been marching on since the days of their youth. 

“That magnolia tree wasn’t even here,” Grubb said. “Now, it’s 40 feet tall.” 

The old pecan tree that was one of the goal lines is long gone as the new owner pointed out. 

But something special happened in this town, on this street many years ago. And people can see a little piece of that when they watch the NFL title game tonight. 

“I would say that Les cut his teeth in the backyard league,” Wilder said. “And hanging around us. ‘Oh, yeah’ His love for the game.” 

Mixon agrees.

“I think one of the things that has carried Les that he did learn in the backyard league was how to be competitive,” Mixon said. “Because that’s what we were. We were competitive. Nobody gave an inch, and we were not going to make it easy on you.” 

They will all be watching the competitive team that Les has assembled in Los Angeles.

And there will be a ton of Eufaula pride knowing they were there when the first chapter in Les Snead’s football story was written. 

“Les is a great connecting piece for all of us,” Wilder said. “His success is our success.”