One Bad Snap Led NFL Legend Mike Schneck to Find His Football Specialty
Welcome to Why We Play, a series of discussions with current players and NFL Legends about their youth football experience and why they play the game.
As a kid, Mike Schneck's first sports love wasn't football. It was baseball.
"I played baseball forever," Schenck said. "I could throw pretty well."
Growing up in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, about an hour outside of Madison, Schneck didn't start playing football until the seventh grade.
"I was the youngest of three boys, and my brother Dan (the middle brother) played football," Schneck said. "He was playing high school football when I just started to play."
Once he started playing, Schneck didn't stop. "I always wanted to play football," he said. "I thought it was cool. I liked playing defense, hitting people."
Schneck found the specialty that would lead to an 11-year NFL career during his sophomore year at Whitefish Bay High School.
"I was a decent linebacker, but I didn’t get a ton of playing time," he said. "One day before practice, I was goofing around, snapping the ball. I had a knack for it."
But soon Schneck found out that his knack for snapping before practice didn't necessarily translate to a game.
"Our snapper got hurt, and his backup got hurt, and the backup to the backup got hurt. Coach said to me, ‘Hey Schneck, I saw you snapping a few weeks ago. You’re our snapper Friday night.' I was like, 'Oh no.'
"My first snap went over the punter’s head for a touchdown. We lost 40-0 so fortunately it didn’t stand out."
But that first bad snap led Schneck to keep working at it in practice.
"From playing baseball, I could generate a spiral," he said. "I could put a ball from place to place. My junior year I came back and played linebacker, but I worked with our senior snapper all the time."
By then, Mike’s brother Dan was a walk-on linebacker at Wisconsin, under the Badgers new head coach Barry Alvarez. Mike, who had blossomed into an All-League linebacker and team captain and MVP as a high school senior, wanted to join Dan in Madison.
“I got it in my head I wanted to go to Wisconsin," Schneck said. "It was the hottest thing in town to do. Between my junior and senior year, they had a punting, kicking and long snapping camp at Wisconsin. I went there and next thing I knew I was snapping in front of the coaching staff."
Mike impressed the coaches enough to earn a roster spot for the Badgers. After graduating, he signed as an undrafted free agent with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1999, where he spent the first six seasons of his NFL career. He spent the next two seasons with the Buffalo Bills, earning a Pro Bowl berth in 2005, and finished his career with three seasons with the Atlanta Falcons.
"It’s all stepping stones," he said. "You don’t realize it until you get older. The experiences you go through, everything that happens, good and bad, it’s cumulative. Some of the tough lessons from high school ended up helping me in college and the pros."
Now, Schneck puts his Wisconsin business degree to use as the founder of Gridiron Partners, an investment firm outside of Pittsburgh.
"I never knew how long my NFL career would last, so I took advantage during the offseason and worked my first four or five years for PNC Bank," he said. "It was a good experience. Getting into the NFL wasn’t my master plan. But the door opened, and I walked through."
Photo: AP/Paul Spinelli
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