By Kellis Robinett
Tribune News Service
Before he hired Bill Snyder as Kansas State’s football coach in 1989, then athletic director Steve Miller had a question for Bo Schembechler.
The respected Michigan football coach seemed as qualified as anyone to assess whether Snyder was ready to make the jump from offensive coordinator at Iowa to head coach at K-State, so Miller called Schembechler and asked what he thought about the possibility.
Schembechler’s reply was as blunt as they come: “Get him the (expletive) out of the Big Ten.”
Miller recalled this story in “The Miracle in Manhattan,” an hour-long film produced by 2007 K-State graduate Dan Youngman that will be available to rent online and to purchase on DVD starting Sunday. Needless to say, Schembechler’s words helped convince Miller he was making the right choice with Snyder.
The rest is history. Snyder took over K-State’s moribund football program and built the Wildcats into consistent winners. He is now in the College Football Hall of Fame.
It’s a story that has been told countless times, but never in the form of a video documentary.
“The Miracle in Manhattan” focuses on Snyder’s first year at K-State and the foundation he built for the future with players that knew little about winning, having not experienced a single victory since 1986. A mixture of old game footage, fresh interviews (with the likes of Bob Stoops, Michael Smith, Dana Dimel, Eric Gallon, Jaime Mendez, Miller and Snyder) and narration from Mike Rowe help make the movie unique and memorable.
Smith recounted a story about how Snyder had the Wildcats thinking they could go undefeated until they missed a field goal in the first quarter of their first game together at Arizona State, “and then reality set in.” They went 1-10.
Miller offered another gem about Snyder attempting to donate his yearly salary to jump start facility enhancements after taking the job. Former players spoke with raw emotion while reliving Snyder’s first victory over North Texas and even some of the narrow losses.
Youngman premiered the film to more than 500 K-State fans at a Manhattan movie theater in the spring and received glowing reviews.
“It is almost unsettling how positive the reaction has been,” Youngman said in a phone interview. “It makes you kind of question how genuine people are about it. But I have shown it to colleagues in the film industry and they seem to enjoy it, too. It’s a classic underdog story, building something from nothing, which resonates with pretty much everyone.”
The idea for a K-State football documentary first popped into Youngman’s head in 2014 while he was working as a producer for “Deadliest Catch.” That’s where he established his connection with Rowe. It was a daunting task, one that required him to leave his job in Los Angeles and work on his own for months to complete, but he was determined to try.
When bills started to pile up — Youngman said the movie cost “tens of thousands” of dollars to make — he hopped in his pick-up truck and helped strangers move to finance the movie.
“I kept that close to the vest at the time, because I didn’t want people to think I was this crazy man making a documentary and also helping people move used beds around town,” Youngman said. “But that’s what I did to keep the lights on at my apartment.”
He hopes to pay off more debt through sales of his movie, but money was never his goal for “The Miracle in Manhattan.” Youngman set out to tell this story in a way K-Staters would enjoy, before a network came along and made a documentary that differed from his vision.
The last thing he wanted was to see a K-State movie filled with Wizard of Oz references and titled “Futility U.”
“I wanted to get out ahead of that,” Youngman said. “If someone who didn’t have any association with the school tried to make this documentary they would have skipped over all those original guys, the foundation guys, and gone straight to Collin Klein. They would have neglected the guys who put in the work at the very beginning.”
Ideally, Youngman would like to make two sequels. “The Miracle in Manhattan” is also called “Part One: The Foundation” for a reason. He won’t say what the topic of a potential second installment would be, and he hasn’t thought all the way through a third.
But he thinks the demand is there. After his Manhattan screening, he was blown away at the number of people that asked when to expect the sequel.
“I just stood there thinking holy (shoot),” Youngman said. “It took so much work to finish Part One, I hadn’t thought anything about a release date for Part Two. But it will happen, and will it be a lot of fun to make.”