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LEVY EAGER TO LEARN IN HIS ROOKIE YEAR AS STUDIO ANALYST

Marv Levy was in Western New York at the end of August to visit with some friends and to get his fall wardrobe out of his Hamburg home.

"I came here with a Bills T-shirt and cap," said Levy from his Chicago apartment. "I came back to get my winter clothes and some sports coats. I'm going to need them on the show."

We'll find out Sunday how Levy fits into his newest role as a studio analyst for the new 11 a.m. preview show, "NFL This Morning," on cable's Fox Sports Net. It will be carried locally on the Empire Sports Network. He'll also do five minutes on Fox Sports Net News on Friday and Saturday.

"It's the first time in 47 years that I'm the rookie," said Levy, who spent last weekend in Los Angeles with his new teammates, host Chris Myers and analyst Jackie Slater, and a surprise guest, Chris Spielman. A few days after the former Bill retired, Spielman was auditioning for a job alongside his former coach.

"I thought he did very well," said Levy, who will be trying to make the transition from successful coach to TV personality.

It isn't always an easy one. There are many more George Seiferts than Mike Ditkas on the tube. Seifert is back in coaching in Carolina after an horrendous season as a CBS studio expert. Ditka is back coaching at New Orleans after several entertaining seasons delivering unorthodox opinions in the NBC studio.

Levy proved last season during his WBEN-AM talk show that he has retired his Coachspeak and actually can be opinionated. What style does he plan to have?

"I'm not looking to be critical," said Levy. "I'll state right out, would I have traded my entire draft for the opportunity to draft Ricky Williams (as Ditka did)? No. But I'm not going to say Ditka's wrong. It is just that I disagree with him."

Ditka's move certainly looked even more foolish this preseason when he began complaining about his team's lack of depth.

"That was an inconsistent comment," agreed Levy.

All right, Marv, what about the big issue in Buffalo talk radio -- (Doug) Flutie or (Rob) Johnson?

"Flutie," said Levy, much more quickly than his successor, Wade Phillips, did. "Because he made their season last year, he saved their season. And there is great confidence that the players feel in him. There is a smoothness and a continuity and a rhythm that they have."

He concedes that if the choice was made on who has the stronger arm or longer future, Johnson might be the answer.

"I'll reduce it simply, that their greatest chance for success this year is with Doug Flutie," said Levy.

He didn't meet with Phillips when he was here last month to discern why the coach had been so reluctant to name a starter during preseason. But he suspects that Phillips didn't want to "de-incentivise" Johnson.

"Maybe he was saying that Doug is our guy and we had all that success but 'I'm not saying nothing would change it, Rob,' " said Levy.

The Bills' depth at quarterback doesn't seem to be a big plus with most national experts, who place the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins ahead of Buffalo in preseason prognostications.

ESPN's Paul Maguire -- who still has Buffalo ties -- was the only man in that network's crew to pick the Bills to win the division. During an interview on the USA Network while he was watching the U.S. Open, Fox's John Madden mentioned four possible AFC champions -- Denver, New York, Miami and Jacksonville. No Buffalo.

Why does Levy think the Bills are being relegated to third place or lower when enthusiasm is so high in this community?

"Both New York and Miami finished a little higher than the Bills last year and Miami did knock Buffalo out of the playoffs," noted Levy. "The Jets went all the way to the AFC final. Both have coaches who have earned their spurs over a long period of time. Both have their teams on the rise. So did Wade. I just think it is the natural progression but I would not rule the Bills out. And Indianapolis is going to be lot tougher than people think.

"I can see the Bills challenge to win the division. If I had to make a cold-hearted prediction, I still think that Denver is the team to knock out. The real contenders with them are going to be Jacksonville, Miami, the Jets and the Bills. If I had to pick who is going to win, it would be that Miami would win the division and the top challenge to Denver would be either Miami or Jacksonville."

In other words, does he think Miami quarterback Dan Marino will be able to play until he is Levy's age?

"He isn't already?" cracked Levy. "He never had mobility so there's nothing to lose there. They have surrounded him with a tremendous amount of speed, particularly on defense."

Picking Miami isn't the reason that Levy and his wife, Fran, plan on eventually leaving Hamburg for a home being built in Williamsburg, Va. After all, analysts aren't supposed to win any popularity contests.

Levy's hiring by Fox Sports Net was popular with a TV Guide columnist, who noted that it was unlikely that a 74-year-old former coach would be using the job as a springboard to get back into coaching. What of it, Marv?

"The age factor doesn't mean anything to me," said Levy. "This is the job I'm going to do the rest of my life if I can be really good at this and have the people who employ me feel that way, too, and I see myself growing in the job. It looks like a lot of fun to me. I'd be happy as can be to do it for years and years."

Around the dial

Ian Eagle and Mark May are CBS' announcers for the Bills' opener Sunday in Indianapolis. . . . Have you noticed how often CBS has come late out of a commercial during the U.S. Open and missed rallies? . . . As good as John McEnroe is as a tennis analyst, I wish he'd shut up once in a while. . . . Jim Brinson and former Syracuse coach Dick MacPherson are the announcers for Empire's coverage of the Syracuse-Central Michigan game at 8 tonight. . . . Once again, Empire is carrying a 2 1/2 -hour postgame report Sunday immediately after the Colts game ends. . . . At 4 p.m. Sunday, Channel 29 is carrying the Minnesota-Atlanta game instead of the more attractive one here between AFC power Jacksonville and San Francisco. Channel 29 asked for the Jacksonville game but Fox asked them to carry the Minnesota game and the station complied.

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