Johnny Rodgers, one of the most electrifying players in Alouettes history, says he thinks it’s a travesty Marv Levy isn’t in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.
“He deserves to be,” Rodgers told the Montreal Gazette from his Omaha, Neb., home. “It’s late. We don’t want to wait until he dies. He deserves it. He did something people can’t do. How many other coaches have you seen come into the league and win two out of three championships in five years?”
Levy, 95, coached the Als for five seasons, between 1973-77, guiding Montreal to a pair of Grey Cup victories and three appearances in the CFL’s championship game. He was named the coach of the year in 1974, accumulating an overall regular-season record of 43-31-4, while going 7-3 in the post-season.
He returned to the NFL in 1978, coaching the Kansas City Chiefs for nearly five seasons before beginning a 12-year run at Buffalo, taking the Bills to four successive Super Bowls — all losses.
“I have no idea what could be the dilemma in getting Marv Levy into the Hall of Fame,” said Rodgers, a former first-round draft choice of the San Diego Chargers who spent four seasons with the Als, starting in 1973, when he was named the league’s outstanding rookie. He was a three-time CFL all-star.
“His stats speak for themselves,” added Rodgers. “I don’t have to advocate it. Marv made it. The team made it. His success made it. The love of the game from the city made it. They weren’t into football until he got them into football. He did it himself. It’s history.”
Over the last month, the Als have started a social media movement to ensure Levy, part of the 2001 Pro Football Hall of Fame class in Canton, Ohio, receives the recognition they contend is long overdue, many former players coming to his defence while praising his accomplishments.
Als president Mario Cecchini, like many, expressed disbelief upon learning Levy hadn’t long ago been inducted. Cecchini can only guess Levy’s brief time in the CFL has worked against him.
“His former players gave the impulse to this initiative,” Cecchini explained. “I strongly felt we needed to correct that and all were ready to give the support. The most heartwarming reactions is that most people I talk to about this, if not all thought, like I, that he was already in. That speaks volumes.
“When I told Marv about it he was genuinely excited, really touched.”
Among Levy’s many accomplishments, he might best be remembered for changing the rule on punt returns, allowing blocking, permitting a player like Rodgers, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1972, to excel on the CFL’s wider field. Prior to the rule change — which Levy referred to as barbaric — many Canadian players served as sacrificial lambs, suffering debilitating injuries while trying to elude 12 tacklers.
Ron Perowne, a Canadian defensive back, suffered a serious back injury returning a kick, his career cut short in 1974 due to a concussion. While Levy was the tipping point for the rule being changed, Perowne quipped he can claim to being a party to it.
“Instead of going to the bathroom on third down or going to refill your beverage, the spectators, in fact, were looking forward to punt returns,” Perowne said. “They could be, literally, game changers and they became game changers.
“Special teams are very important and Marv made that impact on the game.”
But the body of Levy’s work, and the relationship he developed with his players, extended far beyond that, they all said.
Levy had a presence when he entered a room, was well spoken, innovative, meticulous in his details and trusted his players. Rather than over-coach, he entrusted leadership to a group of veterans. And that trust was never broken.
“We formed a basis of a club, but the catalyst was Marv Levy,” said Larry Smith, a former CFL commissioner and Als president. “Marv built that confidence, trust and empowered us to be able to lead. I truly believe that.
“Forty years later and you have vivid and clear memories of the indelible impression someone left on you. That’s the mark of someone who deserves to be recognized properly.”
This year’s recipients will be announced on April 13.
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