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Coach Marv Levy:  Hall of Fame NFL coach and World War II Veteran

By Ava Curry ‘22

Marvin Levy, more widely known as “Marv Levy,” is a beloved name to Buffalo Bills fans everywhere. He began coaching professional football in 1969 and would eventually find himself as head coach of the Buffalo Bills from 1986 until to 1997. But, before all of his historic work in the NFL, Coach Levy served in World War II. 

When the war broke out, Marv was only 16 years old and still a high school student in Chicago. The day after his graduation, Marv followed in the footsteps of his father, Sam, who was a World War I veteran, and enlisted into the Army Air Corps along with 21 of his classmates.

“We all enlisted because we knew that we had to fight the Nazis and people who are threatening our country,” Coach Levy recalled when we spoke by phone recently. 

During the war, there were about 16 million soldiers in service. Now, fewer than a half-million are left and World War II veterans are dying at a rate of more than 300 a day. “I’m proud to have served,” Coach Levy said. “I’m proud my father served. And the time is passing and people are forgetting a little bit.”

He’s trying to make sure people remember. Last season, Coach Levy worked with the Friends of the National World War II Memorial to ask teams across the NFL to honor veterans. That effort led to four World War II veterans taking part in the Super Bowl coin toss.

“Knowing what we fought for, who we fought against and what it meant to democracy throughout the world was overwhelmingly important,” Coach Levy said.

After his time in the Army Air Corps, Coach Levy attended Coe College and Harvard University. He began coaching college and then professional football, and went on to become one of the greatest coaches in football history.

Coach Levy used his life experiences and often referenced the war to inspire his team. On January 3, 1993, the Bills were playing the AFC wildcard playoff game against the Houston Oilers. Many refer to this game as “The Comeback” as the Bills were down 35-3 at halftime.

Many fans had given up hope of a victory and started to leave, but Coach Levy had not. In the locker room, when a win seemed unachievable, Coach Levy relayed a quote from basic training in the military. The quote came from a sign that was displayed inside the entrance of the mess hall. It stated: “The difficult we do now. The impossible takes a little longer.”

The quote “sure did resonate then,” Coach Levy recalled, because the team went on to have the greatest comeback in the history of the National Football League.

Throughout his historic tenure in Buffalo, Coach Levy led the Bills to four consecutive Super Bowls. At the age of 72, he retired from coaching and in 2001, he was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.

Now, at age 95, Coach Levy resides in his hometown of Chicago, with his wife Fran. Their daughter, Kimberly, her husband Greg, and the Levy’s grandchildren, Angela and George, live in the suburbs of Chicago.

Even through navigating the coronavirus pandemic, Coach Levy still has the same enthusiasm in his everyday life as he did when coaching football. “We have to fight our way through it,” he said.

When looking at the NFL right now, Coach Levy is impressed with how the league is handling the pandemic. He understands how tough it probably is on the players, coaches, and the league as a whole. “The fact that they’re going ahead and playing the games anyway, and playing with such high spirits,” he said, “is commendable.”

Similar to many Bills fans and football fans all over the country, Coach Levy is excited for the day when the stands can be packed again.

He said, “We’ll look forward to the day when the lights go on again all over the world.”

 

 

Ava Curry ’22 is a student in the Mount St. Mary Academy journalism class.

 

Photo credit: The Levy family and Friends of the National World War II Memorial.

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