With such players as Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, Bruce Smith and James Lofton, the Bills won four consecutive AFC titles and advanced to four consecutive Super Bowls, but came out on the losing end each time.
During their greatest run, Buffalo won five of six AFC East titles (1988-93) and advanced to Super Bowls XXV, XXVI, XXVII and XXVIII. In each, the Bills ended up on the losing side to, respectively, the New York Giants (“wide right”), Washington Redskins and twice to the Dallas Cowboys.
The Bills were led by Hall of Fame coach, Marv Levy, whose career also included head coaching stints in college; as an assistant coach with the Philadelphia Eagles, the then Los Angeles Rams and Redskins; and as head coach with the Kansas City Chiefs (1978-82) and the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL (where he won two titles).
The Chicago resident is also an accomplished literary scholar, with a graduate degree in English history from Harvard University and an autobiography that was on The New York Times Best-Seller List, Where Else Would You Rather Be? Now 86, Levy has written a novel, Between the Lies (Ascend Books), a mystery that focuses on fictional pro football teams the Los Angeles Leopards and the Portland Pioneers and a possible fix of the Super Bowl. The book is scheduled for release to coincide with the start of the 2011 NFL campaign.
Levy spoke with Big Lead Sports about his careers as a football coach and author.
Big Lead Sports: There has been talk about the Bills potentially leaving Buffalo. What are your thoughts on that?
Marv Levy: I was never involved totally in the business side, so I can only speak as a coach and a general manager. However, at the end I don’t believe the Bills will leave Buffalo. I have heard there are local ownership groups who would keep the team in Western New York if and when the team is sold, and I think the market is there in Western New York, just like it is in Green Bay. People forget we led the league in attendance six straight years, and fans flocked in from Canada and all over Western New York. I think that support in the community is hard to duplicate and will be there again.
BLS: Having experienced previous NFL labor disputes, what were your impressions of the 2011 lockout?
ML: I am glad it was resolved in time, and was disappointed it came about in the first place. The owners and the players all make scandalous amounts of money, so to not play would have been a travesty, and I’m glad it’s over. I also don’t think teams missed that much in terms of preparation. I am one of those coaches who always felt that OTA’s were too long and guys would get too many nagging injuries. I think now that they are back you will have less of those type of injuries, guys are able to catch up and coaches are focused and all will be ready when the season starts.
BLS: Do you miss coaching?
ML: I miss many aspects of coaching, but retirement has given me the opportunity to enjoy many of the things in life that I missed while I was involved in the game. I love the game, and remain close with many of those still in the NFL, people like Bill Polian . . . the greatest GM in the history of the game . . . as well as people like AJ Smith with the Chargers and current Bills GM Buddy Nix. Football is a great game and gave me great experiences. But I don’t follow it like I did when I lived every minute in football. But I will always love the game.
BLS: What was the impetus for writing Between the Lies?
ML: I have always been enamored with the great writers, and had always wondered what it would take to find a storyline that I could relate to and find a way to bring those characters to life in the written word. Now that I am retired, I had the time to actually formulate my thoughts, build the characters and come up with what I hope is a good story people will enjoy. That’s how the book came about.”
BLS: What was the biggest surprise you found in the writing process?
ML: How much re-writing a novel takes. You think you put it down and it all just flows. But I became so enamored with the process, the sequence of scenes and the way the story had to come about, that we had to keep re-writing to keep the story flowing. It was a very emotional experience to get it right. I had heard that Hemingway re-wrote The Sun Also Rises from start to finish 39 times. We never got that far, but I can say it was a process that was almost never-ending, and I hope we got it right.”
BLS: Are there any similarities in the writing process and your coaching experiences?
ML: Absolutely. You need dedication to the task, you have to be able to deal with the disappointments and the highs and keep an even balance throughout the process. You also have to have very strong resolution to pay attention to detail and finish the project you have started out, and that is sometimes not that easy. The biggest difference is writing is a self-discipline that I very personal, and coaching deals with so many real personalities in a very public environment.”
BLS: Were there writers that you drew from during the process?
ML: Yes many, many, especially the classic writers of recent times. I relied on reading Writers Digest and learning from all around me, but in the end it’s like what Sinatra said, “I did it my way,” and that I think is what every writer wants.
BLS: What do you hope readers will take away from Between the Lies?
ML: My goal was to convey to readers a story that shows clean play, hard play and that win or lose, you honor the game. It was fun to bring this story to life, and I hope it is an enjoyable read this fall.
Marv Levy photo credit: Aaron Josefczyk/Icon SMI