In 1986, when Marv Levy was chosen to direct the fortunes of the Buffalo Bills, he brought with him more than 30 years of coaching experience. A graduate of Coe College, Levy began his pro coaching career in 1969 as kicking teams coach for the Philadelphia Eagles before joining George Allen’s staff as a special teams coach for the Los Angeles Rams in 1970.
He followed Allen to Washington in 1971, where he served as the Redskins special teams coach for two seasons. Levy then served as the head coach of the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League for five seasons. After two CFL Grey Cup championships, Levy returned to the NFL in 1978 as head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs.
When he joined the Chiefs, the team was coming off a 2-12 season. Under his leadership, the team steadily improved, posting a 4-12 record in 1978, followed by a 7-9 season in 1979, 8-8 in 1980 and 9-7 in 1981. He left the Chiefs after a disappointing 3-6 in the strike-shortened 1982 season.
Midway through the 1986 season, following a two-year hiatus from coaching and one season as the head coach of the Chicago Blitz of the United States Football League, Levy returned to the NFL as head coach of the Bills. He finished the season with a 2-5 record. In 1987, his first full season with the Bills, the team returned to respectability with a 7-8 record and were in the playoff hunt throughout most of the season.
The following season the team posted a 12-4 record and won the first of six AFC Eastern Division titles. With his high-powered “no-huddle” offense, Levy, who has a master’s degree in English History from Harvard, went on to set a new standard for NFL coaches as he led his AFC championship team to four consecutive Super Bowl appearances.
From 1988 through 1997, the Bills were first in the AFC in winning percentage and second only to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFL. Levy, the winningest coach in Bills’ history, recorded a 112-70 regular season record and was 11-8 in the playoffs during his 11 1/2 seasons with the Bills. He was named NFL Coach of the Year in 1988 and AFC Coach of the Year in 1988, 1993, and 1995.
Pro Football Hall of Fame
August 4, 2001
Bill Polian (presenter):
Enshrinees, honored guests, commissioner, our good friend and benefactor Ralph Wilson, ladies and gentlemen, and that special group of players, fans, coaches, and staff who make the Buffalo Bills family so unique.
It is said that leadership is that unique quality which enables special people to stand up and pull the rest of us over the horizon. By that or any other definition, Marv Levy is one of the greatest leaders this game has ever known.
His incredible vision for what his teams and players could become - and there are many seated in front of us here today who I think will be up on this podium before long - his magnificent ability to articulate that vision, his boundless kindness and empathy for his players and associates, and his unconquerable will to persevere no matter what the obstacle or odds, left an indelible mark on those of us privileged to be led by him.
His famous Marvisms, reflected in a few short sentences. A person, a philosophy, a role model, not only for us, but because of his genius as a teacher, through us for generations to come.
Here are just a few:
'Everyone wants to win. The special person has the will to prepare to win.'
'What you do should speak so loudly that no one can hear what you say.'
'Adversity is an opportunity for heroism.'
'Expect rejection but expect more to overcome it.'
Words not only for winning but for living. And words that remind us not only of the lessons learned and battles fought, but of the profound respect and affection we have for their teacher.
Cicero wrote that friends multiply joy and divide sorrow. There wasn't very much sorrow in our days together, and Marv, your friends are here today to thank you and multiply your joy as you take your rightful place among the game's immortals.
Perhaps the most famous Marvism of all is the most appropriate today, and you've seen it already: 'Where would you rather be than right here, right now?'
Marv, there's no place in the world we would rather be than right here, right now with you.
This winter, the great Jerry Magee of San Diego captured in a few eloquent sentences why Marv Levy will be enshrined here today. They bear repeating:
'Marv Levy ennobled the coaching profession. Marv Levy ennobled the game of football. Marv Levy ennobled everyone with whom he came in contact.'
On behalf of all of us and all of those privileged to have called him coach, it is my great honor to present for induction into the National Football League Hall of Fame, my treasured friend and the finest man I know, coach Marv Levy.
Thank you very much. Thank you.
It's been a long trip from the corner of 71st Street and Stony Island Avenue on the south side of Chicago to Canton, Ohio. It's taken me 76 years. But in the words of an old song, I wouldn't have missed it for the world, because on every step of this joyous journey, I've been accompanied by some remarkable companions.
Many of them are here today, and although there are others who are unable to be here, I'll always know exactly where to find every one of you, right here in my heart forever.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame is a hallowed institution, and I feel some indescribable emotions today upon becoming an inductee along with these six other men who've contributed so much to the game we all revere. Our welcome in Canton by everyone here has been overwhelming. Thank you for making this such a memorable day in my life. I'm grateful to the Hall of Fame board of selectors, those respected members of the national media, including Buffalo's Larry Felser, for allowing me to join the company of those who have entered this hall before me.
When I first walked out onto the practice field as a high school assistant football coach exactly a half-century ago next month, men like Jim Thorpe, Bronko Nagurski, Sid Luckman, and Marion Motley were mythical gods. They still are, and I tread this ground with great reverence for them and for all who reside here. Never did I dream that some day I might be invited to share these same lodgings with them.
How could it happen? Well, it's because of some wondrous people, without whose love, abilities and counsel I'd not be standing here today. My father Sam, by his lifelong example, displayed for me the virtues of an honest day's work and of great personal courage.
You as avid football fans undoubtedly have witnessed many exciting runs from scrimmage. But the greatest run I ever knew of was by my father, who during World War I, along with his comrades from the storied 4th Marine brigade, raced several hundred yards into withering machine gun fire, across the wheat fields at Belleau Wood in France. Their valor on that day, June day, in 1918 succeeded in halting the German army advance just 25 miles from Paris.
He was my hero even before I was born. One day many years later I telephoned my father to tell him I was leaving Harvard Law School and that I wanted to be a football coach.
Thirty seconds of painful silence followed, and then the old Marine said simply, 'Be a good one!'
I hope I haven't disappointed him.
My dear mother Ida enjoyed more peaceful pursuits, and although she never went beyond first grade in elementary school, she'd read the complete works of Shakespeare and countless others. And from her I acquired an appreciation of literature and of the worthy deeds which great literature inspires. Both Sam and Ida have been gone for many years now, but I feel their presence with me here today. And because of them I have my sweet sister Marilyn, who is indeed here to share this occasion with me. In her you'll find the best qualities of our parents. Lucky lady.
Today, fond memories are flashing through my mind. I still recall the fearsome exhortations - look it up Thurman - of my high school coach, Nate Wasserman, and another great Chicago high school coach, Joe Kupcinet. I remember my teammates at South Shore High School, and I remember with pride those 21 classmates whom I joined when we all enlisted in the Army Air Corps on the day after we graduated high school in 1943.
'Nothing can stop the Army Air Corps!' I told you I'd sing up here, fellas.
Nineteen of us came home after the war. The other three remain forever young. Two close friends from my high school days are here today - Herb Melnick and Nick Kladis. What great friends!
I remember my teammates at Coe College, and I remember with affection my college football coach Dick Clausen. He showed me what a noble profession coaching can be. It was my privilege to play for Dick Clausen and later to serve on his staff at my alma mater and then at the University of New Mexico, where I got to coach Don Perkins, who became the first in that string of great Dallas Cowboys running backs. I remember fondly the warmhearted eloquence of a brilliant educator, Davis Y. Paschall, president of the College of William & Mary.
As a head coach in professional football, I've worked with three different owners, men of impeccable integrity. First was Sam Berger of the Montreal Alouettes in the Canadian Football League. The two Grey Cup championships I shared with that distinguished gentleman, with those superb players and uplifting fans in Montreal leave me with treasured memories. Merci, mon ami.
In 1978 Lamar Hunt, an NFL legend, hired me to coach the Kansas City Chiefs and players like Tom Condon, Fuzzy Kremer and Joe Delaney. I will always value my association with Lamar and the fine people in Kansas City.
And then there is Buffalo's Ralph Wilson. I worked for him for 12 glorious years. But he wasn't my boss. He was my friend, and he remains my friend. His contributions to this game are unbounded. He deserves to be enshrined here in Canton and may that day come soon.
The rookie general manager who brought this then-out-of-work 61-year-old coach 18 years his senior to Buffalo was Bill Polian, who honors me by being my presenter today. Together Bill and I decided to employ as our director of player personnel, some obscure USFL scout, his name was John Butler. Bill Polian and John Butler, the two best general managers in football. Smart, honest, witty, energetic, astute, incredibly capable. To them and to personnel directors Bob Ferguson, A.J. Smith, Dwight Adams, Norm Pollom and their excellent staff of scouts, I am indebted for that parade of talented high-character players whom I am so proud to have coached.
I sure didn't coach them alone. How fortunate I was to work with the men who served on our coaching staff, several of whom are here today - Tom Bresnahan, Bruce DeHaven, Don Lawrence, Dick Roach, Dan Sekanovich, and Elijah Pitts' widow, lovely Ruth. So is Ed Abramoski, who was the Bills' head trainer for more than 30 years. Along with coaches like Ted Marchibroda, Walt Corey, Ted Cottrell, Charlie Joiner, Chuck Lester, Rusty Jones, Jim Shofner and Dan Henning, they are all representative of a coaching staff which is unparalleled. Our secretaries, Nina and Nancy, that includes you.
I will never forget that first time I walked into the Buffalo Bills' team meeting room in early November of 1986 upon being appointed in midseason to take over as head coach. Sitting in that room were a young Jim Kelly, Andre Reed, Bruce Smith, Kent Hull, and Darryl Talley were there, great leaders. So were Jim Ritcher, Pete Metzelaars, Will Wolford, Dwight Drane, Fred Smerlas, Mark Kelso, and Mark Pike. Soon to join them: Steve Tasker, Shane Conlan, Cornelius Bennett - thank you, Bill, for that trade, by the way - Howard Ballard, Thurman Thomas - thank you, John Butler - Kenny Davis, Henry Jones, Phil Hansen, and speedy receivers like Don Beebe and James Lofton - each of those guys could run the minute in 57 seconds, time 'em.
Then came Glenn Parker, John Fina, Chris Mohr, Steve Christie, Chris Spielman - thank you Ohio State University and Canton. How lucky can a man get?
What an odyssey I lived with those men, with their teammates and coaches, with all the wonderful people in the Bills organization, and with those incomparable Buffalo Bills fans. For six consecutive years they led the NFL in attendance. Who cared if it was bitter cold or if an angry snowstorm was raging? Their spirits were as tough as linebackers; their hearts were as warm as the thermal underwear I wore during those January playoff games in Orchard Park. And what about those great players and coaches against whom we competed so fiercely? I'm so proud to have walked the opposite sideline from Hall of Fame coaches: Don Shula, Tom Landry, Bill Walsh, Bud Grant, Chuck Noll, Joe Gibbs. And to have walked the same sideline as an assistant to a coach from whom I learned so much and to whom I owe so much, the inimitable George Allen.
Then there are those who are closest to me who sustained and encouraged me, even during moments of searing disappointment. My precious wife Frannie, the happiest when we won, the saddest when we lost, the quickest to shed a tear or to wipe away one of mine. She has brought me love and joy, and, like her, a beautiful daughter. My darling daughter Kimberly, who arrived here just last night from Europe so that she could share this day with me. You coaches out there, may all your players have Kimberly's energy and her spirit and be as devoted as she is. And, to my former wife Dorothy, who was with me during my earlier years of coaching, I am indeed grateful for all we share. Frannie, Kimberly, Dorothy, Marilyn, not one of them ever gained a yard or made a tackle. But without their love I wouldn't be here today.
My family, all girls, is here. Someone once lamented that given my enthrallment with this game, it is a shame that I never had a son. Well, he was wrong. He was wrong. Don't tell me I never had a son. I've had thousands of them, of every size, shape, color, faith, and temperament, and I loved them, every one.
And because of them I still hear echoes from those sounds which glorify this game. I hear the cheers of the crowd as Thurman or Andre goes hurtling into the end zone or as Bruce, Bruce, Bruce sacks yet another quarterback.
I hear the grunts and collisions out on the field of play. I hear Jim Kelly calling cadence at the line of scrimmage. I hear Kent Hull's confident Southern drawl as he relays our line blocking schemes to his teammates up front. I hear the thundering footsteps of young men as they streak down the field to cover a kickoff. No one ever did it better than two men here today, Steve Tasker and Mark Pike.
And even now I hear the distant strains of college fight songs - Cheer, Cheer for old Notre Dame; The Sturdy Golden Bear; Roll Alabama; Ten Thousand Men of Harvard; On, Brave old Army team.
And finally, I hear words spoken to me more than 50 years ago by a man whose memory I cherish. He was my basketball coach and my track coach at Coe College. His name was Harris Lamb. And I will conclude my remarks today by repeating for you what he said to me so many years ago:
'To know the game is great. To play the game is greater. But to love the game is the greatest of them all.'
Harris, my dear friend, I have truly loved this game, and I love every one who has shared this passion with me. Thank you all for enriching my life.