Picked-up pieces while wondering if the player-control, payroll-flexibility Red Sox will finally make a splash to show fans they are back in the business of winning …
▪ Marv Levy knows how Bill Belichick feels. Buffalo’s Hall of Fame coach worked for a veteran loyal owner (Ralph Wilson), took the Bills to four straight Super Bowls, stayed on the sideline until he was 72, then stepped down after going 6-10 in 1997.
Today Levy is 98, sharper than anybody running for president, and wistful about his final days as an NFL head coach.
“After the good run we’d had, we’d fallen back a bit and I just felt it was time,” Levy said from his Chicago home this past week. “Ralph tried to talk me out of it. He didn’t want me to retire.
“But after going to those four Super Bowls, we began to regress. We were bouncing back, but I just felt the time had come to go on vacation in Palm Springs and stuff like that. A year or two later, I regretted it and wanted to come back.”
Belichick and his Patriots are playing the Colts in Germany Sunday. A 3,600-mile trip across the ocean is a good thing for New England’s 71-year-old coach at this hour. The Patriots are 2-7 and some fans are leaning on Bob Kraft to make a coaching change. The unthinkable has suddenly become a real possibility.
What does Levy remember about coaching an NFL team in his 70s?
“I wasn’t as agile as I was before,” he said. “For many years, I’d run wind sprints with our players, and I was no longer capable of doing that. But for the most part, I felt pretty good. I was 72, and at that time, the only one that had gone that long was George Halas.
“If you don’t change with the times, the times are going to change you. There were a considerable number of changes being made in the game. I was aware of them, but I bet our offensive playbook was 25 percent the size of the other teams’. I believed repetition was more important than saying, ‘Oh, look at what I invented. I’m a genius.’ ”
Like Belichick, Levy remained loyal to his core values.
“We were going to have guys who showed up for work on time, who were high-character, and who bounced back from disappointment,” said Levy. “That was what counted the most. Character.”
In 2009, when he was 57, Belichick famously stated, “I won’t be like Marv Levy and coach in my 70s.”
Last year, a sheepish Belichick told me, “I wish I hadn’t said that. That was not one of my better statements.”
Levy holds no grudges. He had a fondness for Belichick’s father, Steve Belichick, who was a Navy assistant coach for many years.
As head coaches, Levy and Belichick went head-to-head only once — a 22-19 Bills win over Belichick’s Browns in 1995.
Levy was head coach of the Bills when they lost Super Bowl XXV to the Giants by a single point in January 1991, when Belichick was Bill Parcells’s defensive coordinator with New York, but he had retired by the time Belichick took over in New England in 2000.
Levy said he understands why Belichick would want to stick around long enough to pass Don Shula’s record of 347 NFL wins (Belichick is at 331).
When I asked Marv if he had any advice for beleaguered Bill, Marv’s wife, Fran, who was listening in on our phone call, interjected, saying, “I think he should retire. I can’t stand him. He’s a cheater and he was rude to Marv. Bill Belichick was always jealous of Marv. He’s a mean person and I hope he never wins again.”
Marv gently asked his spouse to stand down, telling me, “Don’t quote me on that. I’m not saying that. I’m going to have Fran run some extra wind sprints for saying that!”
“I’ll fight for my husband,” said Fran. “I hope I wasn’t too crazy, but that’s how I feel. I wear my heart on my sleeve.”
Marv Levy wouldn’t advise Belichick to step down.
“About a year or two after I left, I felt I’d retired too soon,” said the old coach. “I missed coaching. I regretted it and wanted to come back, but I was too old and no one would have hired me. If somebody would have hired me, I would have come sprinting back.”
▪ Quiz: Edmonton’s Connor McDavid is seeking his fourth consecutive NHL scoring title. Name the four players who have won four or more consecutive scoring titles (answer below).
▪ Does anyone know that the Worcester Red Sox are for sale? Owner Larry Lucchino this past week told Bob Lobel and Mike Lynch (on their podcast, “Unanchored Boston”), “I’m 78. It’s time to sell the team. We’re trying to find a local buyer.”
▪ Bob Cousy’s Boston College teams beat Bobby Knight’s Army teams twice — in the Holiday Festival in Madison Square Garden in 1965, and in an NIT semifinal also at MSG in 1969. The Eagles also went to West Point, at Knight’s request, for a scrimmage before the start of one of Knight’s early seasons.
Cousy’s memories of his encounters with Knight are not fond.
“We whipped him three times and I have still yet to shake his hand,” the 95-year-old Cooz said from his Worcester home.
“I didn’t know who this guy was, Bobby Knight from Ohio State. At the Holiday Festival, we beat him when they were heavily favored and I went over to shake his hand and he ran by me and attacked the officials.
“In the NIT, we were favored and it was a close game and I was intense and on one knee for about the first 37 minutes. I wanted to beat the [expletive] so badly. We finally got about 8 ahead with two minutes to go and I sat back and relaxed a little.
“It was then that I became aware of a string of obscenities coming our way. Knight was screaming at my fuzzy-faced little assistant, Gerard [Gerry Friel], who I’d never heard say a nasty word in his life. The game ended and I went over to shake Knight’s hand and this time he ran by me and attacked Gerard!
“The only other time I remember Knight was when we responded to their invitation to go up to West Point and scrimmage. We went up there and in the first hour we were pulling the players apart because they were fighting.
“Finally, I called time out and said to Knight, ‘Coach, we’re not getting a lot done here.’ And all I heard was another string of obscenities.
“So we finished the scrimmage and on our way out, I said, ‘Bobby, take a good look at my ass, because this is the last time you’re going to see me here doing you a favor.’
“He turned out to be an outstanding coach. I don’t like to see anyone pass away, but given my interaction with him, I was not his biggest fan.”
▪ Robert Williams III injured his right knee, needs surgery, and is going to miss the rest of the season for the Trail Blazers. This is horrible news for a young man who was a key contributor in his Celtics years but was never fully healthy.
No one takes joy in an injury to any player, but Williams’s latest knee woes make Brad Stevens’s bold trade for Jrue Holiday look like a no-doubter.
Meanwhile, folks in Portland have to be wondering about their decades of bad luck with hobbled big men: Bill Walton, Sam Bowie, Greg Oden, now Williams.
▪ According to one of my great readers, “Last year Derrick White was Porcupine, this year he’s Curly.”
▪ Give me Sam Howell over Mac Jones any day.
▪ Rick Pitino’s St. John’s roster of transfers beat Stony Brook, 90-74, in their opener and get a test Monday vs. Michigan at Madison Square Garden.
▪ According to Baseball Almanac, there have been 259 father-son combos in Major League Baseball.
▪ Craig Counsell, who has lost his last five playoff series, got a five-year, $40 million contract to manage the Cubs.
▪ Master of the 2-3 zone, Jim Boeheim coached Syracuse men’s basketball from 1976 through last spring and has turned the team over to 51-year-old Adrian Autry, who hasn’t been a head coach at the high school or college level.
▪ Speaking of Syracuse, why does a great sports university in that part of New York state not have a men’s hockey team?
▪ Just learned last week that former Red Sox infielder John Valentin played high school basketball for Bob Hurley at St. Anthony’s in Jersey City. Valentin was a starting guard along with David Rivers, who went on to play for Notre Dame and the NBA’s Lakers and Clippers. At Seton Hall, Valentin played baseball with Mo Vaughn, Craig Biggio, and Kevin Morton.
▪ Ohio State at Michigan football Nov. 25 reminds me a little of Notre Dame and Michigan State playing the “Game of the Century” — a 10-10 tie — in 1966.
▪ Chess whiz Bobby Fischer (who had his own Game of the Century when he was 13 in 1956) went to Erasmus High School in Brooklyn with Barbra Streisand. Billy Cunningham and Al Davis also went to Erasmus.
▪ The Massachusetts volleyball community lost a visionary last week when Judy Slamin died. Slamin ran the MIAA volleyball tournament for 30 years and also founded one of the top volleyball programs in the Northeast, SMASH Volleyball, which sent hundreds of female and male players to the NCAA.
Slamin was the recipient of the American Volleyball Coaches Association Lifetime Achievement Award. Her granddaughters, Julia and Tessa Lanfear, won Division 1 state championships at Newton North.
▪ Gary Colson, Dennis Johnson’s coach at Pepperdine and a moving force in the NCAA adopting the 3-point shot, died last week at the age of 89.
▪ RIP Dick Drago, who died last week at the age of 78. Drago played a critical role in the 1975 Red Sox-Reds World Series. He pitched three pressure-packed innings of one-hit, shutout relief in the epic Sixth Game and picked up the loss in relief of Bill Lee in Game 2 at Fenway.
▪ Quiz answer: Gordie Howe (1951-54), Phil Esposito (1971-74), Wayne Gretzky (1980-87), Jaromir Jagr (1998-2001).