Former Buffalo Bills head coach Marv Levy, left, speaks to current head coach Sean McDermott, right, before an NFL football game between the Bills and the New England Patriots, Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019, in Orchard Park, N.Y. He's coached in both Kansas City and Buffalo but Levy will firmly be behind the Bills in the AFC championship game Sunday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Adrian Kraus

Former Buffalo and Montreal coach Marv Levy behind Buffalo Bills during playoff march

Former Buffalo and Montreal coach Marv Levy behind Buffalo Bills during playoff march

He’s coached in both Kansas City and Buffalo, but former Montreal Alouettes coach Marv Levy will be firmly behind the Bills this weekend.

Buffalo visits Kansas City in the AFC championship game Sunday following a 17-3 home playoff win over Baltimore on Saturday. The defending Super Bowl-champion Chiefs dispatched Cleveland 22-17 the following day.

Buffalo will make its first AFC championship appearance since Levy’s Bills beat Kansas City 30-13 at then-Rich Stadium on Jan. 23, 1994. The Bills advanced to their fourth consecutive Super Bowl game, suffering a fourth straight loss, 30-13 to the Dallas Cowboys.

“I’m for the Bills,” Levy said during a telephone interview Monday from Chicago. “I’m pulling for them and their terrific fans.

“I’m thrilled for Buffalo, they were always very supportive fans, even through those Super Bowl losses. I don’t know them (Bills) nearly to the depth I did when I was coaching but they’re doing great. I did get to know (current head coach) Sean McDermott, and I’m very impressed, I think very highly of him.”

Levy and McDermott share the same alma mater. McDermott played collegiately at William & Mary and served as a graduate assistant coach there in 1998, some 30 years after Levy was the head coach (1964-68) at the Virginia school — which also was the college home of Toronto Argonauts general manager Mike (Pinball) Clemons and Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.

Levy, still an eloquent and energetic speaker at age 95, took his first pro head-coaching position in Canada. He led the Alouettes to three Grey Cup appearances (two wins) from 1973-77 before being hired by the Chiefs in ’78.

Levy compiled a 31-42 record with Kansas City before heading to Buffalo, The Bills were 112-70 under Levy (1986-97), won 11-of-19 playoff contests and reached the Super Bowl four straight seasons (1990-93).

Levy rejoined the franchise as GM in 2006 at age 80. He’s the winningest coach in Bills history, but many only remember the Super Bowl disappointments.

“It still hurts but I can’t change what’s happened,” Levy said. “I’ll always remember the great players we had, the owner, Ralph Wilson, was a wonderful guy, all the terrific people in the organization.

“When I was hired, Ralph, (GM) Bill Polian and I made the comment that it wasn’t a good coach or a good quarterback that wins, it was a total organization. It was really a great organization to work for and the fans really helped.”

Levy admits he’s not close to what’s happening in the CFL, but is aware the league cancelled its 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Levy fondly remembers his players.

“(On Sunday) I got a very nice email from Wally Buono (an Als linebacker/punter before he became a longtime CFL coach),” Levy said. “And last year Mike Ditka had a big dinner called Gridiron Greats and I sat at the same table as Gabriel Gregoire and Peter Dalla Riva (both former Als players).

“I enjoyed it very much.”

Levy said it’s very difficult to compare the current Bills to the teams he coached. But one similarity would be inspired play at quarterback with current starter Josh Allen and Jim Kelly, the Hall of Famer who led the offence during Levy’s tenure.

“I think he (Allen) is one of the best in the league,” Levy said. “We had a great one in Jim Kelly, plus when Jim was injured we had Frank Reich step in and he was terrific also.

“They’re resilient, they’ve got a great receiver in (Stefon Diggs). We had guys like Andre Reed and James Lofton. I’m sure there are similarities but they’re not identical.”

Levy has no difficulty stating his Buffalo allegiance heading into the AFC championship game. But he was certainly torn in the first round of the playoffs when the Bills faced the Indianapolis Colts — whose head coach is Reich.

Buffalo won 27-24, but Reich will always be one of Levy’s favourite players.

“He’s not only a great coach, he’s a very high-character person,” Levy said. “He has high ideals and is a great family guy.

“He’s everything you’d want in your players and staff.”

The big question this week will be the status of Chiefs starting quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Last year’s Super Bowl MVP suffered a concussion in the third quarter against Cleveland, forcing veteran Chad Henne to finish up.

There’s no doubt the Chiefs are a much better team with Mahomes, but Levy cautioned against assuming they can’t win without him .

“Again, I’ll point to the Frank Reich situation,” Levy said. “Both teams are there for a reason.”

With Kelly injured, Reich rallied Buffalo from a 35-3 deficit for a 41-38 wild-card win over the Houston Oilers on Jan. 3, 1993, the largest comeback in NFL history. In college, Reich also helped Maryland erase a 31-0 halftime deficit en route to a 42-40 win over Miami on Nov. 10, 1984.

Arrowhead Stadium is traditionally one of the NFL’s loudest — and most intimidating — venues. Although the Chiefs are expected to allow only 16,000 spectators into Sunday’s game, Levy said simply winning on the road is a big enough challenge.

“When we had an exceptionally difficult road game to win in order to get to the Super Bowl, I told our players the long story about Hitler’s march into Russia until he hit Stalingrad,” said Levy. “I said, ‘You know why Hitler lost the war? He couldn’t win on the road.’

“It (Arrowhead Stadium) is very noisy and they (Chiefs fans) are great fans and very supportive. There won’t be that many in the stands … but it’s always tougher on the road.”

Also on Sunday, the Green Bay Packers host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC title game. Levy wouldn’t predict which teams will advance to the Super Bowl.

“Predicting the winner is easy,” he said. “Being right, that’s the hard part.

“Call me after the games, I will tell you.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 18, 2021.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

Football

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