Last Wednesday, Marv Levy took a few moments to congratulate the Bills on their win over the Jets and their late-season success. Levy poked fun at himself, telling the team he hadn't contributed much to the cause. He hadn't worked on any game plans. He hadn't put in the offense or defense. He hadn't made a single call on the field.
Then the general manager got serious. Levy said the only thing he would take any credit for was the organization's commitment to bring in players with high character.
"And we succeeded in that," Levy told the players.
Levy doesn't want to confuse character with personality. He's not asking players to be choir boys. He's talking about an athlete's will, what he and Bill Polian, the Bills' former GM, call "football temperament." When Levy talks about character, he's talking about the desire to work, to learn, to be a good teammate and to compete like crazy.
It was easy to be skeptical when Ralph Wilson made Levy a first-time GM at age 80. I'm sure I got off a shot or two myself. Making a Hall of Fame coach the GM came off as a desperate PR move, an attempt to appease a disgruntled fan base.
But Levy has done more than put a happy face on the organization. He has put his personal stamp on the team. His first draft class has been a revelation. He has put an improving product on the field, a team that has come of age in recent weeks and is still in the playoff chase with two weeks to go.
Levy can't say he expected things to come together so soon. But he's not surprised by the Bills' recent surge, either.
"I don't mean to say that I knew this would happen," Levy said. "But the focus for each week has been so keen. If we hadn't improved a lot, I'd be disappointed right now. I anticipated it could happen. I saw a very resilient attitude on the part of our players and coaches. I'm not stunned, but it's still very gratifying."
Levy is especially gratified by his choice of head coach. Dick Jauron was not the popular choice. Levy admitted Jauron wasn't at the top of the Bills' list when Mike Mularkey walked away last January. But Jauron has been the ideal leader for the Bills -- a smart, even-tempered coach who gets the most out of his players and assistant coaches.
"From the moment Dick came in, I knew I could work well with him," Levy said. "He has strong opinions and beliefs. He knows the game. He's a straight shooter, and every player I ever talked with said they profited from it."
"At one time, I tried to hire Dick as our defensive coordinator when Walt Corey left," Levy said. "Tom Coughlin [Jacksonville's head coach at the time] beat me to it by about 12 hours. I've always had high regard for him. I was in Chicago when he coached there, and I was impressed with his coaching and with how the players responded to him."
Levy sees a little of himself in Jauron. He is reluctant to draw parallels to his old Bills teams. It's pointless to compare modern teams to those Super Bowl squads. The difference in talent is too vast. But Levy does see traces of their competitive edge in this group.
"I see similarities in how they carry themselves," Levy said. "Even the quarterback [J.P. Losman] has a little bit of the swashbuckler in him that Jim Kelly had. They love to compete. They face up to challenges and realize that it's part of the competition. It's fun.
"I always tell players, 'You don't get paid for Sunday. You get paid for preparing for Sunday, and Sunday is fun.' Now we have to take on a team [Tennessee] that has won five games in a row."
Sunday hasn't been quite so much fun in awhile. With two weeks to go, it's time to give the rookie GM a share of the credit.