Simply Marv-elous aptly describes the football life and times of the legendary Marv Levy, a history major who can recount his history in three-down football with joy and reverence.
Levy, who is 95 years old, held court virtually on Thursday as the CFL beat the drum for its Grey Cup On Demand portal, highlighting the league’s championship games from the 1970s, an era Levy fondly recalls.
Five years in Montreal with the Alouettes, three Grey Cup appearances, including titles in 1974 and ’77, Levy posted a 43-31-4 record in the CFL, a half-decade sandwiched between stints in the NFL and short-lived United States Football League in the ’80s.
Levy forged many relationships during his stay in Canada, including Als general manager J.I. Albrecht, team owner Sam Berger, Johnny Rodgers and Wally Buono.
During his time in the CFL, Canadian prime ministers would present the Grey Cup trophy to the winning team, a memory that remains as etched as the cold weather that often provided the backdrop. As Levy would recall, he almost didn’t make it to the field for the second half of the 1975 Grey Cup played in Calgary.
“I was suffering badly from frost on my hands,” said Levy. “Doctors told me not to go out, but I had to go.”
The Alouettes lost, 9-8, to Edmonton.
Moving from the Autostade to Olympic Stadium, playing in the final Grey Cup to be staged at Vancouver’s Empire Stadium in 1974 when Montreal beat Edmonton, 20-7, the famous Ice Bowl in 1977 when many Alouettes players affixed staples to the bottom of their shoes, the memories resonate, even if some of the smaller details are elusive.
“It’s only five of my 47-year coaching career, but it sure is a very memorable part of my life,’’ said Levy of his CFL tenure.
Levy loved the city of Montreal, the fans, the players and enjoyed traveling across Canada.
It was his first pro head-coaching gig after being part of George Allen’s staff in Washington, coming off a Super Bowl loss in 1972 to undefeated Miami.
“I missed the first part of your question,’’ said Levy when asked how his CFL experience helped shape him as a head coach. “I have to apologize. At my age, I do have quite a hearing problem.”
Anyone on the call couldn’t help but hang on every word Levy had to say, including his take on Buono, a defensive standout who went on to become one of the CFL’s most successful head coaches.
“He was bright,’’ said Levy. “You don’t think a player will one day become a head coach. I’ve stayed in touch with Wally over many years.
“He wasn’t a real big linebacker and you can never expect what will happen, but he was smart, worked hard and was likable, team-oriented. He had all the good qualities that would lead on to it (coaching), but I didn’t know he’d be a coach.”
Levy knew how Berger outbid the NFL to lure Rodgers out of Nebraska in 1973.
“Remarkably talented,’’ said Levy of Rodgers, the first wide receiver to win the Heisman Trophy.
Levy recalled that he received a call from Nebraska’s athletic director.
“You’re getting a great player,’’ said Levy of that phone chat. “You’re also going to have some headaches.’’
To his credit, Levy prepared for Thursday’s call when many probably wouldn’t have bothered.
“I did read back through a memoir I wrote many years ago,’’ he said. “A large part of it was about my time in the CFL and living in Montreal. It brought back many fond memories, memories of many fine people, some of the great players I coached.
“It was just a delight. I feel so fortunate. My wife and I hope to travel back to Montreal. We enjoyed it very much.
“During my time coaching in Buffalo, we were, of course, across the border, visiting Niagara on the Lake and Toronto on occasion.”
Levy would then tell a story about his dad and family members coming from England to Winnipeg “way back in 1908 on their way here to the United States. They did spend a short period of time up there.”
Levy’s dad was a highly decorated marine and as a teenager, the son wanted to join the Army Air Corps.
But according to Levy, he couldn’t pass the eye test.
At the time, Levy was dating a sergeant’s sister, a connection that allowed doors to be opened.
“But I still couldn’t go to pilot school and I never got overseas,’’ said Levy.
FOR LEVY, THERE LITERALLY IS NO COMPARISON
Having coached on both sides of the border, Marv Levy understands the quality of the CFL.
“I don’t try to strike a comparison,’’ said Levy when the topic of the NFL came up during his Thursday Zoom call with the media.
“The guys in both leagues were impressive to me. There’s a lot bigger group to draft and hire from in the States because of the population.
“Maybe there’s a higher quality in some of the players in the league. I don’t know. I enjoyed them all.”
High school, college, pro, regardless of the level of play, Levy is big on fundamentals.
He recalled a hot practice session during the pre-season when he served as head coach in Buffalo and Bills defensive end Bruce Smith approached him.
“He came up to me one day and said: ‘Hey coach, tell me something, who put the fun in fundamentals?’ I chuckled a little bit. It’s just a lot of hard work.”
Levy gave up smoking cigars years ago.
“Exercise, diet, good family, honest living,’’ said Levy in explaining his longevity. “I’ve been unbelievably blessed with the people I’ve gotten to know during my time.”