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Levy Knows Enough to Downplay Mystique

It is made clear by Marvin Daniel Levy, headmaster, that the no-huddle offense that the Buffalo Bills operate better than any other troupe bears no mystique.

Against Miami the other day, performing on a field buried under snow, Buffalo employed the no-huddle almost all the game.

Because the Bills scored but 44 points, one would think they would look for a method of attack more promising when they engage the Raiders Sunday in the American Football Conference final.

“People see the no-huddle as more complicated than it is,” says Levy, speaking from the warmth of his nest in Orchard Park, N.Y. “It is a simple concept, used by us only because it fits the style of Jim Kelly.”

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Kelly is quarterback for Buffalo. He plays the position like a sky diver, specializing in free falls.

“How much of the no-huddle offense can be programmed?” Levy is asked.

“What we do each week is put together a package for Kelly,” he answers. “A package consists of eight to 10 plays. Kelly decides which plays he will use. If he is functioning right, he exerts heavy pressure on the opponent, thrown off balance by the speed with which a team using the no-huddle attacks.”

Of course, if Kelly is functioning wrong, the Bills are thrown off balance, one of the reasons, incidentally, why Levy never has been a major fan of the no-huddle.

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A structured individual, he is asked, in this, to deal with a system that is unstructured. This contradicts his outlook. But it also challenges his intellect, as a nuclear physicist would be challenged learning to operate a yo-yo.

Levy is one of the more intriguing bodies moving through sports space today. Born in Chicago of immigrant parents--his father was a produce wholesaler--Marv as a lad takes off for University of Wyoming to play halfback.

His deal?

“A job waiting on tables,” he says.

Presumably, the tips were bad, because Marv stays only a semester, moving next to that gridiron factory, Coe College in Iowa. He plays football at Coe, where, likely, the social custom originates called Coe-habitation.

A Phi Beta Kappa at Coe, Marv then earns a masters in English literature at Harvard, perfect background for his first full-time job, assistant football coach at Coe.

In the bizarre orbit he would make, he would serve as head coach at New Mexico, Cal and William and Mary. Did he like William and Mary? Loved her, loathed him.

Next, he is assistant coach with the Philadelphia Eagles when he gets a call from George Allen, then serving his first tour of duty with the Rams.

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Recalls Marv, “George says he would like to hire me as an assistant, but can’t guarantee me more than a year. He explains: ‘That’s because the Rams may fire me in a year.’ ”

George’s suspicion is confirmed, whereupon he moves to the Washington Redskins, taking Levy with him.

Marv would then perform as head coach for Montreal, Kansas City and the Chicago Blitz. In 1982, he would be summoned to the home of Ralph Wilson, owner of the Bills, and interviewed for the Buffalo job.

Wilson interviews but one other prospect--Bills’ assistant Kay Stephenson. Levy has an even-money chance, but loses. The job goes to Stephenson, who is fired in favor of Hank Bullough.

“Four years after my interview with Ralph, I get an unexpected call from him,” says Levy. “He wants me to coach the team. This is how I happened to go to Buffalo. I was picked the second time around.”

Wilson confesses today he wishes it had been the first.

Because Marv, in his own way, is recycled merchandise, he has a soft spot for James Lofton, recycled, too. A prime receiver, Lofton drifted from Green Bay to the Raiders, who decided in 1989 that James, at 32, was too old for his line of work.

“Everyone else reached the same conclusion,” says Levy. “When Lofton went out on waivers, no one touched him. We got a player of quality for nothing. He is the guy who has been making our money catches.”

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If this has been one of those special seasons for Levy who, at 62, dispenses a record of 14-3 and advances to the conference final, it has been equally special for his opponent, Art Shell, who gets to a championship game much earlier in his coaching life than Levy and suffering less pain.

This is the first time in the league a title game will have matched one minority coach against another, one being an ethnic minority, the other religious.

Maybe this is a non sequitur, but everything you read here needn’t be a blockbuster.


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