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Marv Levy tells us how he motivated the Buffalo Bills

Marv Levy, former head coach of the Buffalo Bills, led the team to four consecutive Super Bowls in the 1990s – the only coach to do so. Coach Levy was back last week to share his secrets of success at the Get Motivated event at the First Niagara Center. I would like to share highlights of some of his insights with you. Please click here for highlights of Bill Cosby reminisces about Buffalo at the same event.
 
                    Where else would you rather be than right here, right now?
 
How did we select motivated players? We tried to select only intensely motivated players. The game plan for success was simple, but it wasn’t easy. If you can run, throw, block, tackle, catch and kick better than your opponent, you will win. This requires good PR. Not public relations. But preparation and resilience. It is not about the will to win, but the will to prepare. Remember how you loved playing the game as a kid, just don’t ever let it go. 
 
                    What is the formula for recovering from a super bowl loss?
 
Regarding resilience, in the regular season 12 teams make the playoffs, 20 teams don’t. 11 teams then lose their last game.  After a Super Bowl loss, have a period of mourning, recognize the good, make a plan, and work on the plan. After a Super Bowl loss, when some folks told us they didn’t want us to go back to the Superbowl, we said thank you for sharing, but we are glad that they’re not on my team. After losing our first Superbowl my mother consoled me by giving me this poem:
 
                    Fight on, my men,” Sir Andrew Said
                   “A little I’m hurt but not yet slain.
                     “I’ll just lie down and bleed a while,
                    “And then I’ll rise and Fight again.
Leadership is the ability to get people to believe in themselves. To not follow you, but to join you, and to believe in you. Bill Polian was not the best general manager in professional football. He was the best of all time. He used to say “It is amazing what you can accomplish if nobody cares about the credit.”
                     The Buffalo Bills Rules
We only had two rules:  
1. Be a good citizen.
2. Be on time. 
 
We discouraged contrived dances in the end zone. It wasn’t about having the right vision about football, but about having the right people on the team. Success isn’t about placing blame, but about analyzing why something happens. Some were critical of Buffalo Bills’ kicker Scott Norwood for missing a field goal at the end of the first Bills Super Bowl, but he did make two big field goals to get us to that Super Bowl, and three big field goals the next year to get us to the Super Bowl again.
                    
                    If Michaelangelo played it safe, he would have painted the floor and not the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
 
In a game I had to make over 200 decisions, so we have to find a way to win, and you can’t play it safe. It was all about merit, to do worthwhile work, to always benefit those that are trying to help you. And there was always a tremendous work ethic with the Buffalo Bills. Don’t be dumb, don’t be petty. Have fun in what you do.  I worked 17 hours a day, but I never worked a day in my life.
 
                    Pablo Picasso once said that it is your work in life that is the ultimate seduction.
 
And with that, the crowd gave Coach Levy a standing ovation. What it must have been like being in the locker room with this mountain of a motivator. Every single sentence that Marv shared with us had such intense meaning. If only the same could be said for a couple of the other speakers that graced the podium and took 45 minutes to say what could have been said in two minutes. But the positive of a Cosby or a Levy sharing completely overwhelms the negative of other speakers that lacked content. 
 
                    Please share with us any ideas you liked from this event

Written by Mike Puma

Mike Puma

Writing for Buffalo Rising since 2009 covering development news, historic preservation, and Buffalo history. Works professionally in historic preservation.

View All Articles by Mike Puma
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