Marv Levy is poised to join a very select pro football fraternity.
On Friday night, the former Montreal Alouettes head coach will be inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. He’ll become just the third person to be in both the Canadian and Pro Football Hall of Fame, joining former Winnipeg head coach Bud Grant and quarterback Warren Moon, who began his illustrious career in the CFL with Edmonton.
“It stunned me, it surprised me after all of these years,” Levy said from Chicago during a telephone interview. “I know how few people there are in both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Canadian Football Hall of Fame.
“I know Bud Grant was an opponent but he was also a man I’ve always admired and like very much. And Warren Moon was such a terrific player, both in Canada and the NFL. It’s very, very heartwarming. I’m thrilled and a little bit amazed.”
Levy was named a builder in the 2021 class. However, the Canadian Hall of Fame didn’t hold induction ceremonies in either 2020 or ‘21 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so the two respective classes will be honoured together Friday night in Hamilton.
Joining Levy in the ‘21 class are defensive linemen Will Johnson and Mike Walker, receiver Nik Lewis and defensive backs Orlondo Steinauer and Don Wilson as players. Former CFL commissioner Doug Mitchell will be also be inducted as a builder.
The 2020 class will consist of offensive linemen Clyde Brock and Freddie Childress and quarterbacks Henry Burris and Greg Vavra in the player class. Calgary president/GM John Hufnagel, and former Saint Mary’s University coach/athletics director Larry Uteck (posthumously) will go in as builders.
At age 96, Levy remains an eloquent and energetic speaker although he admits he’s having some issues with his hearing. He will be unable to make the trip to Hamilton, but still recollects fondly his first head-coaching stint in pro football 50 years ago.
He left his job as a special-teams coach with NFL’s Washington following the team’s 14-7 Super Bowl loss to the unbeaten Miami Dolphins in 1972 to become Montreal’s head coach.
“It was such a memorable time for me,” he said. “My coaching career spanned 47 years but those (with Montreal) remain so prominent in my mind.
“The owner of the team, Mr. Sam Berger, and his family were so wonderful. Yes, I had to struggle to try and speak French, but I learned during my time there. The fans were terrific, the opening of Olympic Stadium and our first game there with 68,000 people and the tremendous support we got. Downtown Montreal and visiting places like Toronto and Vancouver, among others, was always a delight. I enjoyed it immensely, fond memories I still retain.”
Levy posted a 43-31-4 CFL record and was its top coach in ‘74. That’s the same year he captured his first Grey Cup title, a 20-7 win over Edmonton at Empire Stadium.
Montreal made a second straight championship appearance in ‘75, dropping a 9-8 decision to Edmonton. The Alouettes were poised to go ahead with 45 seconds left, but Don Sweet’s 19-yard field goal sailed wide for a single after Jimmy Jones bobbled the snap in the bitterly cold conditions.
Two years later, Levy capped his CFL career in yet another frigid Grey Cup, this time at Olympic Stadium before 68,205 spectators. The weather had turned the field into more of an ice rink, prompting Alouettes defensive back Tony Proudfoot to punch staples into his cleats for better traction.
The move worked and many of Proudfoot’s teammates followed suit, resulting in a convincing 41-6 Montreal win over Edmonton.
“The weather was awful,” Levy said. “One of our players got someone to put staples in the shoes of our players unknown to me.
“That was unfair but it gave us better traction than our opponent.”
Levy returned to the NFL as the Kansas City Chiefs head coach, compiling a 31-42 record (1978-82) before heading to Buffalo. The Bills were 112-70 under Levy between 1986 and ‘97. They won 11-of-19 playoff contests and reached the Super Bowl four straight seasons (1990-93).
Levy was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001. He returned to Buffalo as GM (2006-07) at age 80 and remains 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.”
Levy also remembers Berger luring Heisman Trophy winner Johnny (The Ordinary Superstar) Rodgers to Montreal from Nebraska. Rodgers was the CFL’s top rookie and a three-time league all-star over his four seasons in Canada (1973-76) but was a handful off the field.
“Johnny was a spoiled guy back then … many years later he’d certainly turned around,” Levy said. “I was back in Montreal for a reunion about 10 years ago and Johnny was there and was apologetic for some of his off-the-wall actions.
“I’ll remember the good things and forgive him for the bad. I hope people remember my good things and forgive me for my bad things.”
While the NFL will always be regarded as pro football’s top league, Levy said the CFL still commands respect.
“It’s a different game in terms of everybody being allowed to be in motion, there are 12 men on the field and it’s a bigger field,” he said. “All the people I know here in the U.S. have high respect for it.
“We had several players who started first in the CFL then went to the NFL but it was a great start for them in Canada. It certainly has my respect, that’s for sure.”
—Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press