As a former NFL coach and Class of 2001 Hall of Famer, Marv Levy has one of the greatest streaks of all time, taking the Buffalo Bills to the Super Bowl four years in a row. At 89, he works as a motivational speaker, and says he’s honored to be the keynote speaker at the Martin Luther King Jr. Dinner Celebration this coming Wednesday (more details below).
Levy was a college football coach through the civil rights era, before becoming an NFL coach in 1969.
“Even back then, I admired Martin Luther King Jr. so much for what he represented, the lack of, certainly, prejudice, but (also) his style, his manner, his eloquence, how he told the members of the black community (how) he felt they should conduct themselves in order to get the rights they deserve,” Levy says in a phone interview last week from his home in Chicago. “So I’m honored that they asked me now to come in because, I’ll tell you, the three greatest speeches I heard of all time were the Gettysburg Address, Winston Churchill’s ‘Finest Hour’ and Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream.’ I was an English and a history major, so I was very interested in great speeches and things of that nature.”
Of his own life, he says, “I never really experienced what I felt was a lot of prejudice,” even though he was growing up at a time when the stereotype was that Jews weren’t good at sports. He played three varsity sports in college: football, basketball and track. Accepted into Harvard Law, Levy decided to become a football coach instead.
As coach of the Buffalo Bills, he says that he and the Bills’ then-general manager, Bill Polian, “agreed we’d only bring aboard guys of great character on our team and, boy, did that resonate through so many different things” – including race relations on the team during his tenure (1986-1997).
“I don’t know what percentage (of players on the team) might have been white or might have been black, to tell you the truth, but there were great relations on our team, and acceptance,” he says. “I’ll tell you, we had a guy, a center on our team named Kent Hall, who was a great player and everything. The kid came from rural Mississippi – man, I could hardly understand him, he talked with such a down South, redneck accent. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone who was better for race relationships than this guy.”
As for bringing the Bills to the Super Bowl four years in a row and never winning one of them?
“Sure, we would love to have won them, but I can’t walk around and stay bitter,” he says. “If you honor the game, and play right, and give it your best, and honor your opponent, regardless of the score, you never lose.”
That sounds like a very good philosophy.
What: Scottsdale’s 21st annual Martin Luther King Jr. Living the Dream celebration, including honors for the Silverman family, owners of Chaparral Suites, who have been named 2015 Diversity Champions by Community Celebrating Diversity, a nonprofit group. Frances Ann Burruel, a retired educator who has dedicated her life to addressing civil rights issues, will also be honored at the event.
When: Wednesday, Jan. 14; 5:30 p.m., registration begins; 6 p.m., dinner and program
Where: Chaparral Suites, 5011 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale
Tickets: $60, visit scottsdaleMLK.com or call 480-312-3030