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Marv on Ralph: "He wanted to show you he knew the game"

Marv Levy spoke with me this afternoon from Chicago about the passing of Bills owner Ralph Wilson. Here are the high points:

"I'm deeply saddened. I was out for a run-walk and got a call from another person with the sad news. It's upsetting ...

"First of all, he was a great guy to work for. That doesn't mean he wasn't demanding. He expected you to involve yourself heavily in your job. He would express his opinions, but he would listen back. Even if you disagreed with what you were saying, he would weigh it.

"He cared about the people who worked for him if they worked hard. He took every single person in the organization to those Super Bowls. The cleanup ladies, security people."

He took the cleanup ladies, I asked?

"Yeah -- room, board, tuition, books and fees.".

'He had a good sense of humor. He was fun to exchange with. There were times when we disagreed. I remember he wanted to fire some assistant coach. I said 'That would be so wrong.' We got done and he said 'Ah, I still disagree with you, but he can stay'. The guy became one of his favorites.

"He liked to exhange jibes with players, Thurman in particular."


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Do you remember him in the locker room with players after wins.

"Yes. I do. He shared it. They savored it together. He was a keen competitor and that showed in everything he accomplished, both in and out of football. He loved the game. He was very charity-oriented in Buffalo and other places. He wasn't a chest-thumper about it. He just did it.

"I'm old enough to know he was a WWII veteran, in both the Pacific and Atlantic. He served in both theaters in the Navy.

"The coach that's a football genius is the one who won last Sunday. I felt he felt that way, too. He was a level-headed to work with. He'd wear his emotions on sleeve quite often when he talked with you.

"I had been speaking with him about once a month over last few years and I detected in the last five  or six months that it was more and more difficult for him to carry it on. I spoke more with his wife.

Did you talk about the early days of football?

"Often. We enjoyed it, the Sammy Baughs and Sid Luckmans. Yeah, we would talk and get a kick out of it if you brought it up. He did like to show that he was a knowledgeable football fan -- not a falling-down authority, but he wanted to show you he knew the game."

He was proud his daughter, Linda, as a scout

"When he hired Linda, people maybe rolled their eyes a bit. But over the years, I tell you she came up with some pretty good recommendations, late round guys like Keith McKellar and Howard Ballard."

He gave you a break when other people thought you were done.

"It was a gutty move to bring back a coach at the age of 61, though I lied about my age. I said I was 58. I had been fired by the Chiefs. He knew me fairly well from league meetings. It just goes to show you how smart he was. I'm grateful to him, very grateful to me for redeeming my career."

"I think he was great for Buffalo, too."


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