People say the Bills have so much talent—Jim Kelly, Bruce Smith, Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed, Darryl Talley, Cornelius Bennett—that they should overwhelm their foes on skill alone. But get an NFL roster and check out all the teams—there are at least 10 with comparable goods. The nasty, speedy Los Angeles Raiders and the resurgent Kansas City Chiefs (ever hear of Joe Montana?) both lost to the Bills in last year's playoffs. But old Marv can't win. In Orlando last spring Fran had an eye infection, and Marv drove her to an emergency room to get some medication. While Fran was being looked at, one of the attendants kept staring at Marv. "I know you," the attendant said. "You're ... you're...
"It is ironic," says Chief owner Lamar Hunt, referring to (among other things) the fact that Levy finished so far out of last season's AP Coach of the Year voting that, well, he didn't get a single one of the 81 votes cast. Hunt himself blew it with Levy back in 1983 when he fired Levy with a year left on his coaching contract. Levy had gone to the Chiefs in 1978, inheriting a 2-12 team, and had improved it to 4-12, then 7-9, then 8-8, then 9-7 before the strike in '82 destroyed the team's momentum and the Chiefs finished 3-6.
"Our attendance was way down, and we probably overreacted to the circumstances—and the 'we' was me," says Hunt penitently. "Marv has proved me wrong. He's obviously a very, very bright man who knows how to put together an outstanding teaching staff. We're trying to emulate what they've done in Buffalo. And the odd thing is that instead of the Bills being considered a dynasty, they're the butt of all these jokes."
No. 9. "Boy, I'm sleepy. You guys sleepy?"
No. 8. "We've got a long trip home after the game, so I don't want anybody wearing themselves out."
No. 7. "Now get out there and rest on your laurels."
So much goes back to the first in the string, Super Bowl XXV, against the New York Giants at Tampa Stadium in 1991. The Giants controlled the ball with a plodding attack that grounded the Bills' high-wire offense and wore down Buffalo's defenders. Still, with the Giants leading 20-19 and eight seconds on the clock, Bill kicker Scott Norwood lined up for a potentially history-altering 47-yard field goal attempt. The ball just missed to the right. Now Norwood is gone, and the Bills have become so many shoulder-padded Sisyphuses, rolling that big football up the hill only to have it chase them down again.
Levy pauses now in a workout to consider the eternal question. A fitness advocate with a lean 5'10" body, he has no apparent hobbies oilier than working out ("So I don't sag all over," he-says) and reading novels and history books. "He is a minimalist," says Fran. "He doesn't like clutter. And he can't really fix anything around the house." He took up golf back when he was the football coach at the University of New Mexico in the late '50s, played a lot for a couple of months, then appraised the thing. "I'm supposed to be enjoying this?" he asked himself. He never picked up a club again.
Football, he says, is what keeps him going. The Super Bowl losses? They hurt for a while, but they nurture him too. "I coach as though I'm going to be here the rest of my life," he says. "Always. Nothing chagrins me."
As a sprinter at South Shore High School in Chicago back in the '40s, Levy was a fleet Jewish kid who ran hard but accepted what he could not change. At rival Wendell Phillips High there was a kid named Buddy Young, a future NFL star, and he beat Levy every time they raced for four straight years. "Every time," Levy says. "He won the state title in the 100, and he went on to be a great running back at Illinois." No anger, then? Levy is mystified by the question. What is there to be angry about?