ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Before Buffalo, but after the war, there was New Mexico.
Before the Alouettes, but after Charles Dickens, there was Don Perkins.
Before Canton, but after Harvard, there was Zimmerman Field.
Marvin Daniel Levy was born in 1925, son of a World War I hero. He grew up in Chicago and loved the Cubs.
He eventually became famous for coaching the Buffalo Bills in four straight Super Bowls, only to lose all four.
But in between the Cubs and the Bills, for one brief moment, Marv Levy was a Lobo.
“It was only four years,” Levy said by phone this week from Chicago, “but I enjoyed them immensely. I enjoyed living there.”
Truth be told, Levy has enjoyed just about every place he’s lived, enjoyed just about every experience he has had in his 87 years on this planet.
For instance, this week, Levy, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001, was pleased to be honored with a Hall of Fame plaque at his former high school, South Shore High School in Chicago.
It’s an inner-city school now, he says, a bit different than when he was there in 1943.
But it’s still a part of him — just like the Army Air Corps he served during World War II; just like Coe College in Iowa, where he was Phi Beta Kappa; just like Harvard, where he earned a master’s in English literature.
Just like UNM, where he coached football.
Coaching football may not have been as prestigious as some of his other pursuits, but he loved it. Instead of chasing a Harvard law degree, he returned to Coe to be an assistant for Dick Clausen, his old high school coach.
When Clausen was hired to coach UNM, Levy was recommended to be the head coach at Coe. But the school president said the 31-year-old Levy was too young to be in charge, so Levy followed Clausen to Albuquerque.
He knew nothing about New Mexico, but, as is his nature, he threw himself into the job.
Clausen sent him back to Iowa to recruit players and Levy discovered an athletic, 155-pound running back in Waterloo. Clausen was reluctant to sign such a skinny kid.
“I pleaded so hard with Clausen,” Levy says. And finally Clausen gave in.
The kid’s name?
Perkins, of course, went on to be inducted into the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor and had his No. 43 jersey retired by UNM.
“I don’t know if I ever coached a better football player,” Levy says. “Or a better individual.”
Levy would reap the rewards of players like Perkins, Chuck Roberts and Bob Crandall.
After spring drills in 1958, Clausen took a job at Arizona, and UNM took a chance on a 33-year-old Levy, handing him his first head coaching job.
“I was the youngest major college coach,” Levy says. And he was grateful.
UNM, which in those days played its home games at on-campus Zimmerman Field, had managed only two winning seasons in the previous 11 years, but Levy led the Lobos to back-to-back 7-3 records.
After the 1959 season Levy was gone, jumping to what he believed would be greener pastures at Cal-Berkeley.
He never duplicated his UNM success as a college coach, but went on to win two Grey Cups with the Montreal Alouettes and to all those Super Bowl appearances with the Bills.
He coached his last team in 1997 at age 72.
Every now and again, he got the urge to get back into football, but then remembered how time-consuming it was.
“I never worked,” Levy says, “but I spent a lot of time doing it.”
Instead, he’s done some TV, traveled and gets in an hour’s worth of exercise nearly every day.
And he’s written a couple of books — the latest being a work of fiction called “Between the Lies.”
“The protagonist is a sports writer,” Levy says. “He uncovers a massive cheating plan. There are bounties in it. And this was even before I knew there really were bounties. It’s pure fiction.”
His love of literature comes partly from his mother, who devoured books. But it was rekindled by a hospital stay when he was in the Army Air Corps.
“When I was in high school, I hated English, hated reading guys like Charles Dickens,” Levy says. “But when I was laid up, there was only one book in the library — ‘A Tale of Two Cities.’ I was blown away. I thought, this is what life is really about.”
He had entered the Army Air Corps with the thought of becoming a pilot, but his poor eyes prevented that, so he ended up a meteorologist. Still, he treasures his time in the service.
“It was a long time ago,” he says of World War II. “Most people don’t remember it, but I do.”
It’s been a long time since he’s been back to New Mexico — so long he doesn’t remember when it was. But he is planning to attend an event in Gallup in February. He plans to give Perkins a call.
He hasn’t followed college football for years, but was pleased to hear UNM has a new coach who is turning the program around — much like he and Clausen did all those years ago.
His stay in New Mexico was brief, but most welcome.
— This article appeared on page D3 of the Albuquerque Journal