Soon Levens will be even more of a catch. He plans to test the free-agent market after the season and could command as much as $4 million a year. The Packers could have saved themselves some money—and perhaps a back—by signing Levens during the off-season, when he was seeking a three-year deal averaging about $1.6 million a season. He settled for a one-year, $785,000 contract. When starting halfback Edgar Bennett suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon injury in the Pack's exhibition opener, Levens got his chance to shine. In a couple of months someone will pay.
Though he isn't thrilled with Green Bay's weather or social scene—"It's like Groundhog Day, the same day over and over again," Levens says—he hopes to re-sign with the Packers. After all, Levens has been searching for a situation like this one since his Pop Warner days. At Nottingham High in Syracuse, Levens split the rushing chores with backfield mate E.J. Dowdell. He went to Notre Dame and played with a stable of stars that included future NFL running backs Bettis, Watters, Reggie Brooks and Rodney Culver. He ascended to the top of the tailback depth chart entering his sophomore year but suffered a knee injury and underwent surgery shortly before the season. Levens hoped to redshirt, but Lou Holtz demanded he return at midseason. "He was such a dictator," Levens says of Holtz. "It wasn't in Notre Dame's best interest to red-shirt me. There was so much negative energy surrounding me."
Levens transferred to Georgia Tech and. after sitting out for one season, watched as Bobby Ross left the program to coach the San Diego Chargers. Ross was replaced by Bill Lewis, and after a junior year in which Levens split time at fullback and tailback, he moved exclusively to tailback in '93. He ran for 823 yards and had a 7.2-yard average. Drafted in the fifth round by the Packers, Levens emerged as the starting fullback in his second season, but Green Bay drafted William Henderson in '95. A year later Levens was switched to halfback. "Playing fullback helped Dorsey," Bettis says. "When I met him, he was a guy who didn't want to be touched and didn't want to get his uniform dirty. Now he's a more physical runner."
That was evident during last season's NFC Championship Game, when Levens burned the Panthers for a combined 205 rushing and receiving yards, and in the Super Bowl, in which he led all rushers, with 61 yards. This year could a running back take home the MVP award for the first time since the Cowboys' Emmitt Smith in January '94, and only the third time since Allen won it for the Raiders 13 years ago? "I'd bet on it," Bettis says.