30-for-30: The Legend of Jimmy the Greek

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Release: Tuesday, November 10, 2009

[Netflix]

Directed by: Fritz Mitchell

I’m wondering who in this room would recognize the name Dimetrios Georgios Synodinos. I’d be willing to bet many more might if I then revealed this was merely the less-glamorous birth name given to the one and only Jimmy “the Greek” Snyder.

And if you’re still finding yourself asking, “Who?” — that’s perfectly okay. The controversial sportscaster was a fixture for those tuning in to CBS’s popular pre-game show, The NFL Today, during the mid-1970s and through the ’80s before he was (some say deservedly) fired for making off-the-cuff remarks about black athletes being superior to whites. Frankly, anyone not of the thinking that off-track betting and professional football go hand-in-hand probably don’t much care for The Greek’s bold approach to sports journalism.

Snyder should be considered as something of a man before his time, though to call him a visionary would be a little sensational. He was, in a sense, a niched journalist before the advent of social media gave rise to the bona fide niched market. If The Greek were alive today he’d easily have his own show, based solely on his curious, roughshod mannerisms and enthusiastic way of presenting information.

Not to mention the fact the man had trouble disenfranchising himself with the seedy underbelly of Las Vegas, where he learned how to build himself as an effective and respected gambler. He took the skills he acquired there and applied them to betting the odds of things happening (or not happening) during football season. As evidenced in seven-time Emmy Award-winning documentarian Fritz Mitchell’s contribution to 30-for-30, its a strategy that paid off for The Greek in more areas than just sports.

One of his more impressive gambles — the one used as a catalyst for the film’s dramatic unraveling — was a bet Jimmy made on the odds of incumbent President Harry Truman (very unpopular circa 1948) surviving against incoming presidential hopeful Tom Dewey. He based his hunches on the fact that of the many women he had polled that year, mustaches like the one worn by Dewey weren’t exactly a popular style. In one of the greatest presidential election upsets in history, The Greek seemingly validated his quirky intuition and market research.

The Greek went on to make several impressive bets that are elucidated throughout this hour-long documentary. Mitchell captures the man’s interesting life (and lifestyle) using a combination of interviews ranging in tone and objectivity — featuring the likes of Jimmy’s former colleagues, and some bigger names many are likely to recognize (Dan Rather) — and an overlaid narration created by someone who sounds quite like the deep booming voice Jimmy possessed. The film also includes several amusing clips taken exclusively from CBS and their affiliates.

The most rewarding aspect to this particular installment in the series is witnessing the varied reactions of those who knew him with appropriately varying degrees of intimacy, and hearing what it is they have to say now. Jimmy passed away in 1996, and many have coldly dismissed the event as a matter of inevitability. Death by broken heart. After his racist comments were made public, the great Greek never worked a job in news again. His spirit crushed, he would return to Vegas, tail between his legs and become lost to the machine of ill-advised gambling and scheming.

The heartbreaking documentary harps on the inevitable downfall of a once-proud journalist, in the process making a particular comment about the state of his funeral that left this reviewer cold but moreover sympathetic to a man who may not have made the best decisions in public, but one who knew what he loved and tried to die defending it. We of course all make mistakes, and for Jimmy it seemed the timing could not have been worse. This is the ultimate impact of Mitchell’s film.

Click here to read more 30-for-30 reviews.

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3-5Recommendation: Those who grew up watching CBS’s The NFL Today will get more of a kick out of this particular entry than those who did not. Fritz Mitchell makes the discussion lively and open to general interest viewers, as well, of course. This may be a pretty obscure docu but the entertainment/intrigue factor here have long-ranging implications in the world of sports. General sports fans surely will find something to be surprised by here, and if this is the first time meeting Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder, what a welcoming it will be for you.

Rated: NR

Running Time: 60 mins.

[No trailer available. Sorry everyone.]

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Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com; http://www.espn.com

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4 thoughts on “30-for-30: The Legend of Jimmy the Greek

  1. American Football is one of the sports I have never liked, but this documentary was fascinating. Really made me think a lot. Great to see it reviewed, and so well.

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