Marv Levy insists his novel about rigged Super Bowl is only fiction
BY RICK TELANDER firstname.lastname@example.org July 23, 2011 1:10AM
Former Buffalo Bills coach Marv Levy, who will turn 86 on Aug. 3, has decided to try his hand as a writer. His first novel, ''Between the Lies,'' is expected out next month. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times
LEVY’S SUPER BOWL APPEARANCES
The Levy-coached Bills became the only team to lose four consecutive Super Bowls. Levy also reached the Super Bowl as a special-teams coordinator for the Redskins when they lost
to the Dolphins in Super Bowl VII.
Updated: October 29, 2011 12:36AM
Marv Levy and fiction wouldn’t normally seem to go in the same sentence.
That is, unless you think a coach taking a team to the Super Bowl four consecutive seasons — and losing each time — sounds like made-up stuff.
But that’s what Levy did with the Buffalo Bills, led by Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly and Hall of Fame defensive end Bruce Smith, after the 1990, 1991, 1992 and 1993 seasons. Those Bills teams lost to the New York Giants, Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys (twice) in Super Bowls XXV, XXVI, XXVII and XXVIII. Had there been a fifth consecutive Super Bowl appearance by the Bills, some agency might have investigated, just to make sure they weren’t an AFC stooge team sent in to make NFC folks happy.
‘‘Oh, it didn’t feel good,’’ Levy says now, eating lunch at a Lincoln Park restaurant on Diversey, not far from his condo. ‘‘You mourn for a while, then you own up and say, ‘What could I have done differently?’ Then you recognize the good in it, all the wonderful people and fans and players. Then you make a plan to get better, and finally you go to work on it.’’
All that is true. And though the Bills never did win the Super Bowl, Levy has been appreciated for his contributions to the game, for his gentle and refined nature and, yes, for his winning.
It’s easy to forget that simply to get to those Super Bowls, the Bills had to beat — often on the road — several good teams. It’s true that no other coach has lost four Super Bowls in a row, but no other coach has won four conference championships in a row, either.
And while we’re at it, no other coach has led a team back from a 32-point, third-quarter deficit in the playoffs and won (the Bills over the Houston Oilers 41-38 in January 1993), and no other coach comes to mind who went 17-6 — including 3-0 in the playoffs — against genius Don Shula.
And it wasn’t out of sympathy that ol’ Marv was voted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame 10 years ago, either. His no-huddle offense, his 143 NFL victories (186 professional victories overall, including the Canadian Football League) and his decades of coaching at all levels made him a no-brainer for Canton.
But did it make him a candidate for novel-writing?
This is kind of crazy, but Levy has written a work of ‘‘complete fiction’’ — his words — called Between the Lies, in which, among other things, the Super Bowl is rigged.
The novel won’t be out for a month, and by that time Levy will have assured questioners a thousand times that none of the Super Bowls he coached in was rigged, juiced, undermined, stolen or swiped in any way. He’s pretty sure about that.
‘‘It’s exaggerated,’’ he insists, looking for all the world like that lawyer or history professor he probably was meant to be.
Indeed, Levy had started Harvard Law School after graduating from Coe College and doing a stint in the Army in World War II. And if it hadn’t been for some undying love for football that lurked in his noggin, he would have continued into the world of jurisprudence.
‘‘I never have suspected or sensed a whiff of cheating in any of our Super Bowls,’’ he says.
Even when Scott Norwood’s 47-yard field-goal try sailed wide right as time expired in Super Bowl XXV? Maybe there was a wireless chip or a lead weight on the ball. Or a mouse inside.
‘‘No,’’ Levy says.
If that ball had sailed through, think about how sports history might have changed. But the kick probably was too long, right?
‘‘Forty-four percent of field goals from that distance are good,’’ Levy says, like, you know, he never has thought about it again.
But back to the book.
‘‘I anticipated it,’’ says Levy, who will be 86 in 10 days. ‘‘I knew people would ask questions. But it’s not about refs rigging the game. It’s about, well, what if teams have secret wires in opponents’ locker rooms? What if they listened in to other teams’ signals? What if they did illicit filming?’’
Nah, that never would happen. Would it, Bill Belichick?
In the book, for which he graciously provided me his own written synopsis, I notice lots of very amusing names, such as filthy-rich team owner Cedric B. Medill, equipment manager ‘‘Malaprop Joe’’ Skoronski and quarterback Q.T. ‘‘Cutie’’ Pye. There is also an opposing quarterback named, ahem, Kelly James.
‘‘Yep, there’s a little of Jim Kelly in there,’’ Levy admits. ‘‘But it’s, remember, fiction. But the Kelly in the book is a strong lead er, determined, and a great locker room presence, like Jim was.’’
As the ‘‘Marv-elous’’ release states: ‘‘Above all, this story features a strong moral theme, and that is, ‘Play hard! Play clean! But — win or lose — honor the game.’ Beyond that, it is meant as entertainment.’’
You have to look Levy in the eye. He’s healthy yet, slim, trim. He walks for an hour a day, occasionally bursting into 100-yard dashes, just like when he was a track star at South Shore High School in Chicago.
He’s eating a tuna salad — no dressing, just fish, lettuce and tomato — and he even removes the yolk eyeball from the accompanying egg. He’s drinking unsweetened ice tea.
Maybe the guy will live forever. And he’s gonna live it here in Chicago, which he and wife Fran never are leaving again.
So two questions: Is there another novel up his sleeve?
‘‘I’m waiting to see how this one does,’’ he says. ‘‘But I’ve got a double-jeopardy crime novel in mind.’’
And the names in that one?
‘‘I was always enchanted by the way Charles Dickens selected names,’’ he says.
Of course: Fagin, Scrooge, Bartleby, Tiny Tim, Mark Rypien.
OK, one more: This stuff hasn’t really happened?
‘‘I’m not even hinting that,’’ he replies. ‘‘Could it be done? A lot of coaches are apprehensive about it. And it intrigues the public.’’
ABOUT ‘BETWEEN THE LIES’
The Los Angeles Leopards and the Portland Pioneers are on a collision course toward the Super Bowl. One team is led by a take-no-prisoners head coach; the other is led by a cerebral, slow-and-steady coach who has been thrust into the spotlight because of a tragedy. But on the way to the big game, the integrity of the game comes under question.
Renowned sportswriter Mel Herbert is faced with an agonizing decision. The Leopards have just won the Super Bowl, but questions arise if they won because of a massive cheating operation orchestrated by head coach Randy Dolbermeier.
Herbert believes the team cheated, and he has uncovered a great deal of evidence that persuades him. Will the editor of his newspaper, the Los Angeles Guardian, risk the reputation of the paper and the likely overwhelming legal repercussions should Mel’s revelations prove to be insubstantial or, worse, refuted?
Through the eyes of a memorable cast of characters, many of whom are based on real football players, coaches, general managers and owners, readers get to see professional football from the inside.
The book also shows the game’s underbelly, where rules are bent or broken, lies are used as promises and the integrity of the game hangs in the balance.