Bill Polian crossed paths with Marv Levy with the Montreal Alouettes in 1976. From that moment on, the two men were almost professionally inseparable.
Polian, who was the architect behind the Buffalo Bills teams that went to four straight Super Bowls at the beginning of the 1990s and the powerful Indianapolis Colts of the early 2000s, is a big advocate of Marv Levy’s induction into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame (CFHOF).
“Marv had a profound effect on every person that ever played or worked for him. Everyone that he comes in contact with, he touches them in a very real and tangible way. Especially those around him on a daily basis because he is so inspiring” said Polian. It’s Levy’s impact on people outside of the football field that impresses the New Yorker. “He is the shining example of what is good about our sport and humanity in many respects,” he added with heartfelt emotion in his voice.
On top of being Levy’s friend and former colleague, Polian is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. “This is my first year and I just went through the process. I bring a different point of view to these discussions. The membership in the Hall requires excellence, and that’s a given with Marv…the Grey Cup, the records, and so forth in what might have been the golden era of the CFL,” explained Polian.
“Beyond that, membership in the Hall is a two-way street. It confers honor on the recipient and brings additional value and prestige to the Hall, especially if the recipient is a person of stellar character, stellar accomplishment, someone who is looked up to in his profession throughout North America. That is the case with Marv,” he continued.
Inducted in Canton in 2015, Polian believes that Levy’s five years at the helm of the Alouettes are enough to get him inducted North of the border. “His time in the CFL was probably shorter than most that have been inducted in the Hall, but his effect on the league will have a lasting effect on the CFHOF because of the way he excelled throughout his life, his career, and most importantly because of his character. It goes beyond his accomplishments on the field. “
Lamar Hunt’s worst mistake
Polian and Levy’s paths first crossed in Montreal in 1976, when Levy was coaching the Alouettes for the fourth season and Polian had just been hired as a scout. “Towards the end of the season, right before playoffs, I received a call saying I needed to come up to Montreal for the weekend because Coach Levy wanted to meet with me. I was astounded. He told me he had read my reports – only Marv Levy would read scouting reports from an obscure scout. He said: I really think you have a future in this business and you’re a real asset to this organization. I would really like to expand your role,” recalled Polian.
After winning the 1977 Grey Cup in front of a record crowd of 68,318 fans at Olympic Stadium, Levy became the Kansas City Chiefs’ Head Coach. One of his first moves was to hire Polian as a professional scout. Levy then offered another job to Polian with the USFL’s Chicago Blitz in 1984, before the roles were reversed.
“When the USFL went dark, I was fortunate enough to become pro personnel director with the Buffalo Bills and was eventually appointed General Manager in 1986. When it was time to make a coaching change, there was only one person that I thought about and it was coach Levy,” said the SiriusXM NFL channel’s contributor.
“I recommended him to the team owner Mr. Ralph Wilson, who then asked Lamar Hunt, the owner of the Chiefs, for his opinion on the matter. He told Ralph the biggest mistake he’d made was letting Marv Levy go. You know the rest of the story,” added Polian. The Levy-Polian tandem went on to have unprecedented success, winning six division championships, making the playoffs eight times, and participating in four consecutive Super Bowls.
CFL success = NFL success
Polian is also convinced that Levy’s success in the NFL is largely due to the years he spent in Montreal.
“No question! We brought Tom Clements from the CFL to Kansas City to be our original backup quarterback because Tom understood how the offence worked and we needed a mentor for our young quarterbacks. Tom is the ultimate professional.”
“Marv had a huge effect on the CFL during his time in Buffalo and Kansas City. Firstly because he brought the elements of the Wing T to Kansas City, which was a departure from anything that had been done in the NFL. Secondly, because he brought a renewed emphasis on the kicking game.
Buffalo being so close to the Canadian border, 100 kilometers from the CFHOF to be precise, Marv’s success boomeranged on the CFL. “Chris Berman’s focus on the Grey Cup every year on ESPN really came from his knowledge of and friendship with Marv. He recognized how much Marv’s CFL experience had contributed to what we did in Buffalo. It was symbiotic. There is no question about it. Without Marv in Buffalo, I don’t think the CFL would have gotten the kind of exposure it received at the time,” declared the six-time recipient of the NFL Executive of the Year title.
During his career, Polian had the opportunity to hire two coaches who would end up receiving golden jackets in Canton: Marv Levy and Tony Dungy.
After drafting Peyton Manning as the Colts’ General Manager, Polian was searching for the coach that would take him to the promised land. Tony Dungy was the strongest candidate and was interviewed by Polian.
“I asked Tony a question about how he would prepare a team from the opening of training camp until the end of the season. He gave a detailed answer. He then asked if he was saying something funny. And I said no. He said I was smiling. I replied that I had heard all of this before verbatim from Marv. This was exactly the way we did things in Kansas City and in Buffalo. Their approach was exactly the same.”
“The ironic part is that they had no prior connection, other than the fact that Marv had tried to get Tony to come to Montreal to be the quarterback to replace Sonny Wade when he was getting ready to retire.” Dungy had just completed his collegiate career as the University of Minnesota Gophers’ quarterback where his backup was a certain Marc Trestman…