New York Premiere

ESPN’S 30 for 30: The Legend of Jimmy The Greek

Oct 13, 2009
6:30 PM ET
New York

In the early eighties, Jimmy “The Greek” became a folk hero on the popular NFL Today. With Runyonesque humor and a flair for predictions, Jimmy brought sports gambling to the spotlight of network television. Peabody Award–winning filmmaker Fritz Mitchell, who began his career at NFL Today, unravels the complications of Jimmy, from his early childhood tragedy to the racial remark that got him removed from his show. In this documentary for ESPN’s 30 for 30 series, Mitchell deftly captures the emergence of football reporting and Jimmy’s impact on the growth of mainstream gambling. (52 minutes)

Director Statement
I was appalled the first time I laid eyes on Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder. The billowing aroma of his cologne, the chunky gold jewelry, and his coarse street language would have been enough to shock any snotty young kid just out of college. Of course, I had seen him a thousand times before but always on TV. Now he was right up close, along with the rest of it. Gorilla-size television cameras swayed back and forth like ballerinas through the traffic of technicians, set directors, and make-up people. The director’s voice of God echoed through the hysteria of rehearsal and hot white lights filled every socket of Brent, Irv, Phyllis and of course, “The Greek.” I was scared out of my mind as I sat on the set of The NFL Today show, a newly hired researcher in the fall of 1984. Twenty-five years later I have the good fortune to look back and try to figure out the man, whom I first found so jarring and later came to feel a genuine affection for. More recently I have so many questions about “The Greek”—his rise to power as a commentator on that iconic pregame show and his swift fall from grace after his fateful remarks concerning African-American athletes. How was this odds maker and gambler able to make his profession seen so legitimate, almost the way Susan Sarandon made prostitution seem innocent in Bull Durham? How did he make his way to The NFL Today show?” What was his appeal and how did the NFL feel about his presence on the show? But most importantly, how did he bring odds making and gambling out of the shadows to mainstream America? Television and film often struggle with shades of gray, preferring white and black hats. The challenge of this project, like any that focuses on an individual, will be to illuminate the complexities of his character. Also with such a colorful character, the story will unfold naturally; the problems will be what material should be left on the cutting-room floor.

Fritz Mitchell, Filmmaker
Irv Cross, Sportscaster
Phyllis George, Sportscaster
Anthony Snyder, Son of Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder
Moderator: George Veras, Former Producer, NFL Today

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