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Sports film of the week: The Legend of Jimmy the Greek

Meet the man who brought bookmaking into the mainstream in the United States, before a remarkable fall from grace.

Image: Marty Lederhandler/AP/Press Association Images

Released: 2009

Director: Fritz Mitchell

The plot: ‘Born in Steubenville, Ohio, to Greek immigrants, Jimmy overcame childhood tragedy, moved to Las Vegas, and eventually became the biggest name in the world of sports handicapping. When CBS added him as an “analyst” on “The NFL Today,” “The Greek” not only further increased his stature as a sort of national folk hero, but he also gained an air of respectability never before associated with gamblers.’

As the belligerent, straight talking ‘analyst’ on CBS’ The NFL Today, Jimmy Snyder – better known as Jimmy the Greek – was one of the most popular figures in sports broadcasting in the early 1980s.

The Greek had a rise to prominence on the seminal pre-game show, the Gillette Soccer Saturday of its era, that was only matched by his fall from grace in 1988, when he was fired from the show for making widely condemned comments about African American athletes in a Washington DC restaurant.

The film marks his beginnings as a cocky young gambler who admitted to betting “all I had, many times,” through to his stint on a show that brought bookmaking into the mainstream in a country where gambling was, and remains, largely illegal.

What the critics said: “When I watched Dan Rather refer to Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder as “an American tragedy” in the first few minutes of the latest documentary in ESPN Films’ “30 for 30” series, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. Rather’s assessment struck me as the kind of hyperbole that career on-camera interviewers – who know what makes for good TV – have a tendency to spew when they’re answering the questions instead of asking them. But by the end of The Legend of Jimmy the Greek, I was stunned to find myself nodding in agreement.

“If like me you remember Jimmy the Greek for the manner in which he became infamous, Fritz Mitchell’s film will reawaken you to the days in which “The Greek” was merely famous. Furthermore, it will enlighten you about an even earlier time, when Jimmy the Greek was just Demetrious Synodinos of Steubenville, Ohio. On paper this profile of a gambler turned TV personality turned outcast might appear to be the least compelling of the six “30 for 30” pictures released thus far. On screen, however, it’s the most complete film yet.” (Jason Bellamy, The Cooler).

[YouTube credit: ESPN]

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