A quarter-century after the crime, Marv Levy finally came clean.
This little anecdote is going to take a bit of unpacking.
A visitor last week to the Pro Football Hall of Fame coach’s Lincoln Park home was sharing a story of being a Lane Tech football player in the mid-1980s when the program received — seemingly out of the blue one day — a truckload of equipment. The helmets, shoulder pads and the rest had belonged to the recently shuttered Chicago Blitz of the soon-to-be defunct United States Football League, and for a bunch of Public League kids accustomed to hopelessly bent buckles and mismatched facemasks, this was beyond a thrill.
Levy — a proud Chicago son and the Blitz’s head coach in 1984, their second and final season — listened to the story with a devilish grin on his 93-year-old face. For what had he done a decade later, in 1994, when he was a four-time Super Bowl coach in Buffalo?
“I wrote a fight song for the Bills,” he said, “and I stole the Lane tune.”
Like a thief in the night, it turns out. Begins Lane’s song:
For we are here to cheer for you,
To you we’ll e’er be true.
And Levy’s Bills ditty:
For we are here to cheer for you,
We are your fans so true.
And on it went, a few key words — but not many — changed here and there as he debuted it on his weekly TV show in Buffalo.
“Two or three weeks later, I got a call from Lane’s principal,” Levy said. “I thought, ‘Uh-oh.’ But he was delighted.”
How Levy — a Chicago treasure — belly-laughed at the recollection.
Alas, not as funny: Sunday’s Super Bowl between the Patriots and Rams also marks 25 years since Levy and the Bills suffered a fourth consecutive, and final, Super Bowl defeat. So it seemed like a good time to pay the man a visit, to bask in his good-natured excellence and pester him with a few questions.
One of them: What do Bears fans know of suffering just because of a Cody Parkey double-doink? Scott Norwood missed a potential game-winning field goal from a similar distance in the Bills’ first Super Bowl, against the Giants, and that merely began their stretch of agony on the sport’s grandest stage.
“It’s tremendously difficult,” Levy said. “The public, not all of them, but so many, lash out at Cody. When you undertake a job like that, you may experience a moment like that. I hope the guy bounces back, because it hurts. But when you compete, you’d better be ready for the sad moments, too.”
But there’s no sadness for Levy when he reflects on his career in football, which also includes a pair of Canadian Football League titles as coach of the Montreal Alouettes. No, the memories are too wonderful.
“There’ll always be regret that the Bills didn’t win one, but it’s not something that destroys your outlook on life,” he said. “It was a game. It was an important game. I wish we would’ve won them, but I’m proud we got there. I’m proud we bounced back. I’m proud of the people on our team.”
Levy gives the edge on Sunday to the Patriots because of their experience and Tom Brady, but only half-heartedly.
“I’m as interested in the battle between Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi as I am between the two Super Bowl participants,” he said.
The native South Sider’s non-football bio is as impressive as his football one, anyway. After graduating from South Shore, the son of a Purple Heart recipient in World War I served in the Air Force during World War II. Levy later earned a master’s degree from Harvard. He has written four books — a memoir, a novel, a collection of poems and, most recently, a children’s book about his beloved Cubs’ World Series victory in 2016 — and continues to take Humanities classes at Northwestern’s downtown campus.
Levy takes an hour-long brisk walk every day — outside unless it’s oppressively cold, in which case he uses a treadmill — and trots 50 steps every five or six minutes. He also does light weightlifting three times a week. He and wife Fran have a St. Petersburg-to-Moscow river cruise planned this summer.
And this might just be the world’s biggest Cubs fan, to which pal Ryne Sandberg attests. Levy was at Wrigley Field for the World Series against the Indians in 2016. He also was— and what could possibly be cooler than this? —at Wrigley for the World Series against the Tigers in 1945.
Talk about an anecdote worth a bit of unpacking.
“World War II had just ended a couple of months earlier, and I was home on furlough,” he said. “A friend of mine was on furlough, too. We listened to Game 6 on the radio. The Cubs won it, and that meant there was going to be a seventh game. He and I ran down to Wrigley Field hoping to buy tickets. The line was out of sight, but they moved everybody in uniform up to the front. I bought a ticket — cost $1.10 for Game 7.
“We sat down the first-base line, in the grandstand. The Cubs lost it. I remember walking out and everybody chanting, ‘Wait ’til next year! Wait ’til next year!’ Well, we all know how that went.”
Marv Levy, folks. He’s 93 years young — the very best of us — and he has a lot of living left to do.
There’s a big game Sunday, but his Knute Rockne speech to us isn’tabout football.
“Stay active,” he said. “Exercise, study, travel, enjoy dinner out, enjoy your family, try to maintain good health, stay interested in what’s happening in the world.”
And most important of all?
“Savor it while you can.”