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T.J. SIMERS

Marv Levy can't even write himself a happy ending

The Hall of Fame coach becomes an author, with the plot centering on a fictional, controversial Super Bowl.

January 17, 2012|T.J. Simers
  • Former Buffalo Bills coach Marv Levy may have the dubious distinction of losing in four consecutive Super Bowl appearances, but the experience didn't give him writer's block.
Former Buffalo Bills coach Marv Levy may have the dubious distinction of… (Rick Stewart / Getty Images )

It's not often you get to interview a man who must be close to 200 years old by now.

So I made the drive to visit Marv Levy and was shocked to discover he has finally figured out a way to win a Super Bowl and he's not all that pleased about it.

Maybe known best to the current generation as one of the football coaches who does beer commercials, Levy's obit probably will begin with the fact he took Buffalo to four straight Super Bowls.

And lost them all.

Welcome to the world of sports, where a lifetime of achievement and honor is boiled down to a sad-sack paragraph.

Or, so it would seem until you find Levy, as feisty and upbeat now as he was when telling his team before every game, "Where else would you rather be?"

Nowhere but in La Quinta today, listening to Levy explain how he made a winner out of the Los Angeles Leopards. It's his team in the Super Bowl and in the book he wrote, "Between the Lies."

Who decides to become a novelist at age 86?

"I don't feel a day older than 83," he says, and if you ask him if someone wanted him to coach again, he'd be on the way.

But there's no chance of that happening. "Maybe the one prejudice that is still allowed and shrugged off is ageism."

Taking a turn now as kid author, he makes a hero out of a Los Angeles sportswriter who discovers the Super Bowl has been fixed, thereby ruining Los Angeles' victory.

Hard to believe any Los Angeles sportswriter would do such a thing to his local team, but obviously Levy has quite the imagination. Maybe a movie in the making.

"People are always suspecting it," says Levy explaining why he has a NFL team cheating to win. "I thought it would be compelling for a reader to wonder, is there cheating?"

No word yet if Commissioner Roger Goodell finds the question raised by one of his former head coaches to be just as compelling.

Paul Rogers, the NFL commissioner in Levy's book, is a mix of Goodell's name as well as Paul Tagliabue's.

"It's amazing how many people think I'm hinting that there's been cheating in the league or the Super Bowls we lost; this is fiction," Levy says. "Hey, I worked for George Allen and he was paranoid someone was filming our practices and wiring our meeting rooms and locker room. It gave me an idea."

It also prompted a quick Levy story about Allen.

"George asked for a second car when he was with the Redskins which he never drove. He left it parked outside of the building and told people never to turn out the lights in his office, so everyone thought George was up there working all night."

Allen had a lot to do with Levy's career, hiring him to coach the special teams for the Los Angeles Rams in 1970 and replacing Dick Vermeil.

At the same time Levy had a lot to do with finding coaching gems in the high school ranks such as Bill Walsh and Bobby Ross.

The head coach of the Los Angeles Leopards is Bobby Russell, a takeoff on Ross.

"I was enamored with Charles Dickens as a kid and his names blew me away," Levy says. "So I tried to have fun with some of the names like the quarterback: Q.T. Pye, or Cutie Pie.

"Now I was writing about cheating but what I was really trying to convey in the end is to play hard, play clean, play to win, but win or lose, honor the game."

And so even though he finally gets his Super Bowl win, Levy goes Scott Norwood on everyone and takes it away.

"I just want people to finish the book and say, I was entertained," he says. "When I set out to do it I had no deal in place. I knew it would be tough. I read somewhere that John Steinbeck was turned down 22 times on his first novel.

"But I was just going to do it. It's like I told my players, in order to succeed you need good P.R. That's not public relations; you have to have persistence and resilience to succeed."

It helps explain a long, fulfilling life, a philosophy well lived.

"If I had coached in high school for 60 years I would have loved it," he says. "Getting to the top was not a goal. I welcomed the opportunities, but I just believed do the best doggone job you can and good things will happen."

He never played professional football, dropped out of Harvard Law School to coach, had a losing record as a college coach, spent time in the USFL and won a pair of Grey Cups.

As much a gentleman as he was a head coach, he put in 17 years with Kansas City and Buffalo, winning 154 games. And he now resides in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

"I like what Winston Churchill said," Levy says. "History will be kind to me because I intend to write it."

And so, how would he like to be remembered?

"I'll tell you about one young, beautiful girl who approached me and wanted to say something to me," says Levy. "I'm saying, 'Yes, yes,' and she tells me, 'My grandmother thinks you are wonderful.' "

And more than likely she would want to know what it felt like losing four straight Super Bowls.

"It's the Bill Buckner thing, yeah, I know," he says. "But let me tell you, after we lost the second one I did a call-in show that Monday. Some guy comes on and says, 'Coach, please don't get back to the Super Bowl next year. I can't stand it; I can't go to work.'

"When he got done, I said, "Sir, I understand your anguish; I share it. But I'm glad you're not on my team.' "

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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