In late December, just days after Rex Ryan was fired as coach of the Buffalo Bills, Marv Levy told an Albany radio station he would “consider it” if asked to come back and lead his former team. The Hall of Fame coach quickly qualified his answer: “I’d do it,” he said, “but I’m not deluding myself to think an offer would come.”
That quick exchange created a bemused social buzz: Hey, Marv wants to coach. He’s 91! Can you believe he still wants to do it?
Believe it. Levy abhors inertia. Age, too. But he relishes an intriguing challenge. Coaching the Bills? If asked (which he wasn’t), then sure. Or this: Writing a children’s book about the Chicago Cubs?
That one happened.
Last fall, after the Cubs ended a 108-year World Series championship drought by beating the Cleveland Indians in seven games, Levy penned the story for “Go Cubs Go!”
The 48-page children’s book is illustrated by Rob Peters and also includes a Cubs timeline from Chicago baseball historian George Castle. Levy created the story around a character named Grandpa Bruno, a bear who’s longed his entire life to see his beloved Cubs win the World Series.
After they do, Bruno and his grand-cubs Angela and Georgey (the names of Levy’s two grandchildren, ages 8 and 2, respectively) watch the celebration in downtown Chicago.
The former football coach penning a picture book about a baseball team is a more natural fit than you might think.
Since leaving the Bills' sideline after the 1997 season, Levy has led a Jimmy Carter-esque life. He resides with his wife Fran in their hometown of Chicago and stays busy as a speaker, writer and grandfather. (He also did brief stints as a broadcaster and as the Bills’ general manager.) He's an investor in Harry Caray's Restaurant Group, the company named after the late Cubs broadcaster.
“He’s a legend here,” said Levy’s friend Ryne Sandberg, the Cubs’ Hall of Fame former infielder and another Harry Caray's investor. “He’s from here. His roots are from here, and people know that so they consider Marv a son of Chicago.”
For Levy, the story is largely autobiographical. Bruno the Bear grows up attending Cubs games, and in 1945, finds his way into game seven of the World Series.
That was the last time the Cubs appeared in the championship until 2016, and Levy indeed was there. Then a member of the United States Air Force, Levy was home on furlough.
Levy went to Wrigley Field and stood at the end of a long line, hoping to get a ticket. World War II had just ended, and Levy was one of many military members trying to get into the game. Everyone in uniform was moved to the front of the line. Levy bought a $1.10 ticket to the game, which his Cubs lost.
Bob Snodgrass, publisher of Kansas-based Ascend Books, heard that story during the 2016 World Series, when the Cubs honored Levy during game three.
Snodgrass was already considering publishing a book about the surging Cubs, and he worked with Levy before. (Ascend published Levy’s 2004 memoir “Where Would You Rather Be?” and his 2011 football novel “Between the Lies.”)
Snodgrass also knew Levy wrote a book of poetry, is a doting grandfather and ardent Cubs fan. He suspected Levy would embrace writing a children’s book about a baseball team.
“The guy is the classic Renaissance man,” Snodgrass said. “Who do we want to write a children’s book? Who do you get to rewire your house? Marv Levy.”
Levy quickly accepted the assignment. He spent about two weeks writing the book on a computer from his high-rise Chicago apartment, where Wrigley Field is visible from the window. He imbued the tale with a theme that defined his own football career: resilience.
Take the final words of the story:
Grandpa Bruno was so happy to share this Championship with his family. “You know,” Grandpa Bruno said, “we can all learn something from the Chicago Cubs and that’s—“ and they all joined him in shouting:
“NEVER GIVE UP!”
That message intersect with Levy’s life as a Cubs fan and his legacy as a football coach. As a Chicagoan, he finally got what he waited a lifetime to see. “I had said prior to it, if the Cubs ever win the World Series it’ll be probably the greatest day in the history of Chicago sports,” Levy said. “And it was.”
As a football coach, it reflects the attitude he instilled in his Bills teams that reached four straight Super Bowls, but won not one.
“Without a doubt that would be the greatest day in Buffalo sports history, if they were to go ahead and win the Super Bowl,” Levy said. “It’s a long, hard road, but never give up. That was the theme of ‘Go Cubs Go:’ Never give up. Our teams didn’t either. We never quite got to the revered goal, but they never did give up.”
Nor does Levy. He doesn’t give up, let go, or settle down. His next project is likely a novel. “Whether I’m capable of it, I’ll find out,” he said. “But I’ll go in. I’ve got the time.”
Or perhaps it’ll be something else. Some opportunity – like this one to write a kids’ book – that he doesn’t anticipate. That’s why Levy rarely knocks down an idea that interests him — even when it’s something as fanciful as coaching again.
“That’s who he is,” said his friend Sandberg, noting that there are only two living figures in Chicago sports history that locals address simply as “Coach.”
One is Mike Ditka, the legendary former Bears coach. The other is Levy. His coaching fame came in other cities, but he’s a man of Chicago, a fan of the Cubs. He’s a person whose loyalty and perseverance earned him that reverent, single-word title:
“That’s what the city of Chicago thinks of him and knows of him,” Sandberg said. “If Marv Levy was asked if he could still coach, the answer from him – knowing him – would be obviously yes.
“He could always coach.”