Marv Levy learned toughness, preparation and discipline from his father, a Chicago grocer who was a Marine in World War I. The lesson he learned himself was how to coach.
"It's nothing to do with a pep talk or a one-day speech. I don't think you bludgeon them. I don't think you grab them by the shirt and kick butt," Levy said of his coaching philosophy. "That is a concept that many people have of what leadership is. I don't believe it is at all." For the lessons he passed on to his players during 11½ superlative seasons with the Buffalo Bills, Levy is being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame today. Joining him in the class of 2001 are defensive linemen Nick Buoniconti and Jack Youngblood, offensive linemen Mike Munchak, Jackie Slater and Ron Yary and wide receiver Lynn Swann.
Not Just Angry White, Haired Man
Younger fans probably formed their image of Levy from television footage of an angry white-haired man arguing a call with an official, often punctuating his points with arms waving or fingers pointing. In reality, he is probably one of the most thoughtful and mild-mannered NFL coaches. "Leadership is the ability to get other people to get the best out of themselves," said Levy, who has a master's degree from Harvard. "It's manifested by getting them not to follow you but to join you." The Bills of the 1980s and 1990s were models of consistency and disciplined play — thanks to the tutelage of Levy. Levy's Bills averaged 10 wins a year but are best remembered for four losses — in consecutive Super Bowls, including one to the Giants in 1991 when Scott Norwood's 47-yard field-goal attempt on the game's final play went wide right. Levy never looked at those as defeats but as experiences from which to learn. "It takes tremendous qualities of character to get so disappointed, to get so knocked down, and then to pick yourself up and then go through all the hard work and dedication it takes to get back there," he said. "It was a very resilient group, guys who stuck together."
From ‘No-Name’ to Fame
Buoniconti wasn't drafted by the NFL and had to wait until the 12th round of the AFL draft in 1963. Thought to be undersized, he went on to become a block of granite for the Boston Patriots for seven years before anchoring one of the great defenses in NFL history in Miami. Buoniconti was the lynchpin of the Dolphins' "No-Name Defense," which helped the team to a perfect season in 1972. As a "no name," it was probably fitting he was overlooked for selection for years before being selected this season by a seniors committee. "This is a wonderful way to culminate a career," he said. "After the induction, the Buoniconti chapter and book will be closed. And I think I will have accomplished an awful lot." Buoniconti will be presented for induction by his son, Marc, who was paralyzed from the neck down in a 1985 football accident. It promises to be an emotional moment when the younger Buoniconti is wheeled to the podium near the front steps of the hall to introduce his father.
In 14 years with the Rams, Youngblood was All-NFC eight times and was the league's defensive MVP in 1975. Munchak, Slater and Yary labored as dominant blockers on great teams. They also received their share of individual honors. Munchak was named first- or second-team All-Pro 10 times for the Houston Oilers. Slater played 20 superlative seasons with the Los Angeles Rams — still an NFL record for longevity with one team. Yary was All-Pro six times with the Minnesota Vikings. All were physical and enjoyed the contact up front. "I loved being knocked down as much as knocking someone down," Yary said.
Swann saved his best for the big games with the Pittsburgh Steelers dynasty of the 1970s. In the Steelers' 21-17 Super Bowl victory in 1975, he had four receptions for 161 yards, including a 64-yard catch and run that provided the winning score. Youngblood, Swann and Munchak each will be presented by former teammates: fellow Hall of Famer Merlin Olsen, John Stallworth and Bruce Matthews, respectively. Yary's line coach at Minnesota, John Michels, will introduce him, while Slater will be presented by his coach with the Rams, John Robinson. Levy selected longtime friend and Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian to make his presentation speech. The new inductees also will be introduced during Monday night's annual Hall of Fame exhibition game between the Dolphins and St. Louis Rams.