2007 ACC Football Legend: Wake Forest's Norm Snead
Oct. 11, 2007
By Wilt Browning
When Nathan O. Hatch became president of Wake Forest University on July 1, 2005, he said all the right things.
Among them was that as a teenage student at University High School in Columbia, S.C., he had watched "Norm Snead single-handedly dismantle a favored University of South Carolina squad."
Late this summer, the dynamic former Deacon quarterback was named an Atlantic Coast Conference Legend, one of a dozen who will be honored in Jacksonville, Fla., Nov. 30-Dec. 1 as part of the league's football championship weekend.
Hatch, Snead and the ACC have T.C. Armstrong and Snead's father to thank for that.
Unless you're from the old neighborhood in Newport News, Va., you perhaps have never heard of T.C. Armstrong. But you ought to know that it was he who first discerned the quarterback in young Norman.
"The Armstrongs were neighbors of ours, and he became a very good friend," Snead said. On a late summer day about the time the 1940s were giving way to the 1950s, Mr. Armstrong announced to his young sons and to the young Snead boys, including Norm's two younger brothers, that it was his intention to form a youth football team.
"I went running home and told my dad I was going to play football," Snead remembers. It was no unexpected development; already the elder Snead, a welder for 42 years at the nearby Newport News shipyards, had been regularly playing catch with his sons using not only a football, but baseballs, softballs and basketballs.
When the news came that young Norm would try football, the wise father approved but with one stipulation.
"'If you start, you've got to finish,' he told me," Snead said.
Snead finished. But it took him close to 25 years to do it, through an outstanding high school career, three varsity seasons at Wake Forest where he played a major role in redefining the art of quarterbacking, and on to 16 more years with various National Football League teams where he also was a star winning Pro Bowl and all-pro recognition.
To say that he learned a lot along the way would be an understatement. "That first day Mr. Armstrong had us together, he lined everybody up and he watched us throw the football, he watched us catch the ball, he watched us run," Snead said. "He didn't watch me very long and then just said, `You're my quarterback.'
"I didn't even know what a quarterback was."
It could be said that a lot of us had no idea what a quarterback was until Snead arrived on the new Wake Forest campus in Winston-Salem in the late summer of 1957 for his first day of work with the freshman team. In three varsity seasons to come, he became part of an ACC movement - along with Sonny Jurgensen at Duke, Roman Gabriel at NC State, Dick Shiner at Maryland and several others - that redefined the position for all time.
Nobody did it more dramatically than Snead who became the all-conference quarterback in 1959 and 1960, his junior and senior seasons. Among those who noticed were the talent scouts for the Washington Redskins who made him the second player chosen in the first round of the 1961 NFL draft. He had contributed 4,040 passing yards to the Wake Forest efforts in his three varsity seasons and threw for another 30,797 yards and 196 touchdowns in a shining professional career.
That Snead's name is forever attached to the roll of great athletes at Wake Forest is a matter of a friend and friendliness.
"A good friend of mine, Bobby Allen, always had wanted to go to Wake Forest. Bobby and I grew up together and he got me interested in Wake. Wake Forest was on a new campus and the school was smaller than my high school. When I visited and walked around campus, everybody you met said hello - not because I was a recruit but because that's what they do at Wake. Still do," Snead said. "And I loved the place."
A trip up the peninsula to watch Wake Forest open the season on the road at William & Mary in Snead's junior season in high school already had inspired the tall, handsome quarterback to put the Deacons at the top of his list. "I watched Billy Ray Barnes score touchdowns the first three times he touched the football that day," Snead remembered. "That pretty much did it for me."
If he had his way, Snead decided before actually enrolling, he would be a two-, maybe three-sport star in not only football, but basketball and baseball as well. Barnes himself had starred not only in football, but in baseball in his time at Wake. And Snead was not without credentials; among his scholarship offers from several schools were those to play basketball.
"When I got to Wake, I had a talk with Coach (Paul) Amen and (basketball coach) Bones McKinney," he said. "Both said I could play both sports, or either.
"But I found out I wasn't the greatest student in the world and that I'd have to study." For most of his time at Wake, he was a one-sport man and that one sport was football though he did play freshman basketball and reported to the gym again when he was a senior to provide depth for an injury-plagued basketball team that included Lenny Chappell and Bill Packer. He scored 31 points in the first four games of the season.
If the old adage that there are horses for courses has any validity, it is borne out in the pairing of Snead with the Wake Forest offense. He became only the second quarterback in ACC history to pass for more than 1,000 yards in a season ("They go way beyond that now," he said.) setting records of 1,361 yards and 1,676 in his junior and senior seasons, respectively.
"I was lucky," Snead said. "We had a coach (Amen) who had been with those great teams at Army, the Lonesome End teams. And Paul brought that philosophy to Wake Forest. We even went to the Double Lonesome formation a lot.
"I threw the ball a lot, but nothing like they do today."
Before he finished his remarkable college career, Snead had rewritten not only the Wake Forest records, but those of the still-young ACC as well. And through the last two seasons, his favorite passing target had been, as it had been all those years since Mr. Armstrong had called him a quarterback, his childhood buddy Bobby Allen.
"Bobby was a great athlete, and a great friend. That's what recognitions like this (his selection as an ACC Legend) are really about," Snead said. "It's about the people with whom you played the game and I had some great players around me."
Wilt Browning is a special contributor to theACC.com. He spent more than 40 years as a sports editor and columnist in the Southeast. He worked for the Greenville News, the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, the Charlotte Observer, the Greensboro News & Record and the Asheville Citizen-Times. His numerous awards include five North Carolina Sports Writer of the Year honors. He is also the author of five books, including Come Quittin' Time which was released this summer.
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