Marv Levy chuckled when a reporter recently inquired if he would consider a return to Buffalo to coach the team he once led to four consecutive Super Bowls. “I just sort of flippantly told the interviewer, ‘Hey, if the Bills offer it to me, I’ll consider it,’” he recalled from his Chicago home, just blocks from the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. “I never thought there would be any offer coming, but I guess my response caused a little stir and went viral.”
At 91, the finest coach in Bills history has no desire to return to the sidelines. At one time, there was no place he’d rather be. But these days this ageless wonder is quite content sitting in front of a keyboard, stringing together words rather than victories.
Writing has been Levy’s passion during his post-coaching career, and to no one’s surprise the man with the voluminous vocabulary and a plethora of pithy, often humorous quotations has become quite the wordsmith. His memoir became a New York Times best-seller, and he’s also penned a highly entertaining novel and a book of poetry.
And now, the young-at-heart Levy has gone where he never expected to go, publishing a children’s book about a team he’s passionately followed for nine decades. “Go Cubs Go! Baseball’s Never Give Up Story” is a heartwarming tale chronicling this nonagenarian’s lifelong love affair with a franchise that finally ended its 108-year famine with a World Series title last fall.
“It was a departure from what I’ve done, but it was not a difficult write,” Levy said. “I’m actually the main character, Grandpa Bruno, and the grandchildren in the book are named after my two granddaughters. I guess you could say that although it’s a children’s book, the story somewhat echoes my life. I’ve been a Cubs fan since I was 5, and I’ve always been fond of quoting Winston Churchill, so the theme of never, ever giving up obviously is inspired by the prime minister’s speech to the English people during World War II.’’
For Levy, and thousands of fellow Chicagoans, it still seems somewhat surreal that the Cubs really did end the curses of the Billy Goat, the black cat and Steve Bartman. He has vivid memories of being home on furlough shortly after World War II had ended and standing in line for a ticket to Game Seven of the 1945 World Series. “The line outside the ticket office was several blocks long, but the team officials brought all the uniformed soldiers to the front, and I was able to purchase a ticket for a dollar and ten cents,” Levy said. The Cubs lost that game, but there was a sense of optimism among fans as they departed Wrigley. “People were chanting, ‘Wait until next year,’” he recalled. “Well, that chant went on for 71 years.”
The Cubs finally returned to the Fall Classic last autumn, and they asked Levy to be their guest for Game Three. Between innings, he was introduced to thunderous applause. Talk about a circle-of-life experience.
Several days later, Levy watched on television as the Cubs won the World Series title with a dramatic, extra-inning victory against the Indians in Cleveland. Next year had finally arrived.
“I said if the Cubs won the World Series it would be the greatest day in Chicago sports history, and it was,” Levy said. “Officials claim there were five million people at Grant Park for the parade and celebration. I think that’s an exaggeration, but it was an overwhelming turnout. And the thing I like about it is the class with which the players, management and fans handled the entire season, right up through that celebration. There weren’t any violent acts; there weren’t taxicabs overturned or looting or fires. It was just people having a great time.”
Levy’s bond with the Cubs has grown stronger through the years. He’s become good friends with Hall of Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg and his wife. He also got to know late Cubs announcer Harry Caray, the Falstaffian character who became as much a part of team lore as any player or manager. Early in Levy’s Bills coaching career, he was back in Chicago having dinner at Caray’s restaurant, when a waiter brought over a complimentary drink. It was from Caray, and Levy went over to thank him. The two men struck up a conversation—and a friendship. Years later, Levy would become an investor in Harry Caray’s, one of Chicago’s most popular sports bars.
Caray started one of the best traditions in sports by leading the Wrigley Field faithful in rousing renditions of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during seventh-inning stretches. Soon, he asked celebrities to join him in the booth, and on a few occasions, Levy, who once authored a Bills fight song, was the lead singer of the Wrigley choir. “Harry was a larger-than-life character who truly embodied the spirit of Cubs fans,” Levy said. “He never stopped believing that one day the Cubs would win it, and when they did, I’m sure Harry was smiling down on the Windy City.”
Levy sees similarities between the unwavering loyalty of Cubs and Bills fans. It pains him that his former team has suffered through a 17-season playoff drought. But he’s encouraged by the hiring of rookie head coach Sean McDermott. There is a shared lineage. During the mid-1960s, Levy coached at the College of William & Mary and one of his quarterbacks was Jimmye Laycock, who later would go on to coach McDermott at the school. “The second-best coaching experience of my career, behind only the Bills, was my time at William & Mary,” Levy said. “I don’t know much about Sean, but I do know a lot about Jimmye, and the type of student-athlete that school produces. So, I’m really enthused about this hire.’’
And the man who also benefited from coaching former William & Mary players Mark Kelso and Steve Christie believes Buffalo’s playoff famine will eventually end. And when it does...
“We saw what it was like in the 1990s,” said Levy, who’s working on a second novel. “And I hope it can be that way again soon because Bills fans are so deserving. There’s definitely a lesson to be learned from Cubs fans: Never, ever give up.”
Best-selling author and nationally recognized journalist Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal sports columnist.
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