In a career that spanned 40 years and culminated with a bust in Canton, Ohio, Marv Levy won championships, competed in Super Bowls and coached future Hall of Famers. But when he flips through his mental Rolodex of the most memorable and satisfying games, invariably he returns to a mid-October day in 1967 in Annapolis, Md.
Levy, in his fourth year as William and Mary's coach, led the Tribe to a seismic upset of Navy. The Midshipmen were the No. 1-ranked team in the East, with wins against Penn State, Michigan and Syracuse. W&M was 3-3, had not beaten Navy since World War II and was supposed to be homecoming fodder for the Mids.
Instead, the Tribe rallied from 16 points down late in the third quarter and overtook Navy 27-16. Levy and his players fairly floated back to Williamsburg, arriving to a huge reception on campus.
"I spent 12 years with the (Buffalo) Bills," Levy, now 87, said earlier this week from his home in Chicago. "Other than that, what I remember most is my five years at William and Mary. They were the greatest group of overachievers, whether it was on the athletic field or in the classroom, that I've ever been associated with."
Levy and that particular group of overachievers will be honored at halftime of Saturday's 3:30 p.m. homecoming football game versus Maine at Zable Stadium, marking the 45th anniversary of that edition of the Tribe and of the Navy win.
Following Saturday's game, players from the Tribe's '67 team and selected others are scheduled to go to the Laycock Center and view a DVD of the Navy game, which was re-mastered from the original film.
"My wife asked me recently if that was the best day of my life," said Jim Barton, a defensive back on that team who went on to become a doctor and is now a physician with W&M's student health services. "I correctly answered no. We have three sons, so the days that they were all born and the day my wife and I got married were the best four days. But that's a close fifth."
Navy was still a national power in the mid-1960s, having produced Heisman Trophy winners Joe Bellino and Roger Staubach only a few years earlier. The Tribe had lost to the Midshipmen each of Levy's first three years, by an average of 26 points, and had lost the last 12 in the series.
Tribe quarterback Dan Darragh said in a previous story that he told his younger sister, Mary Anne, before the team left for Annapolis: "We don't have a snowball's chance in hell of winning this game."
Many of Darragh's teammates were far more optimistic, despite Navy's reputation and the fact that the Mids were a 21-point favorite.
"I don't think by any means we thought we were just going to show up and be another 'W' for them on homecoming," said Barton, who grew up in nearby Landover, Md., and whose father and grandfather had served in the Navy. "But when you fall behind 16-0, you start to think that maybe all the pundits who said we didn't stand a chance were right."
Barton added, "But then good things started happening. We started to think, maybe we can pull this thing off."
Darragh directed a 68-yard touchdown drive, diving in from the 1-yard line on the last play of the third quarter. The Tribe's Gordon Buchanan recovered a Navy fumble on the ensuing series, and Darragh connected with sophomore receiver Jim Cavanaugh for an 11-yard touchdown. Darragh hit Ted Zychowski for the two-point conversion, to cut the Mids' lead to 16-14 with 5:16 remaining.
"We played a lot of homecoming games at William and Mary, because people thought they could beat us," said Cavanaugh, a longtime assistant coach at Virginia Tech. "We had good players. We had better players than I think a lot of people gave us credit for."
The Tribe defense stopped Navy once more and forced a punt. On 2nd-and-8 from the W&M 49, Darragh recognized a blitz coming and changed the play. He hit wide receiver Steve Slotnick in stride for a 51-yard touchdown pass that gave the Tribe a 20-16 lead with 3:05 left.
William and Mary's Jeff Lund then recovered a short, bouncing kickoff at the Navy 20. Five plays later, Terry Morton scored from the 2-yard line for the game's final points.
Cavanaugh remembered the stunned silence of the crowd. As the players shook hands and chatted briefly afterward, he said that a former high school teammate playing for the Midshipmen griped to him that when they lost, Saturday curfew was earlier, cutting into the evening's social plans.
"I said, Hey, don't blame that on me," Cavanaugh joked.
Mostly, the players and coaches felt immense satisfaction.
"We'd sat there in that locker room while those 4,400 naval cadets marched by our locker room singing 'Anchors Aweigh' for so many years after losing to them," Levy said, "it was very inspiring."
Current Tribe head coach Jimmye Laycock was a member of the '67 team, but was sidelined with a knee injury and did not make the trip. He and others listened to the game on the radio, and he recalled the excitement all over campus after the win.
When the team returned to campus, it was met by a throng of people cheering and holding signs, including school president Davis Paschall.
"I think there was more than the total population of Williamsburg there to welcome us back on campus," Levy said. "We realized it was an upset beyond belief almost."
On the steps of old Blow Gymnasium, Levy and the captains addressed the crowd, and Levy presented Paschall with the game ball.
"There was a lot of energy, excitement and pride that day," Barton said. "I could hear the bell ringing at the Wren Building like it's never rang before."
The scene, Laycock said, "I don't think that had ever been seen before at William and Mary."
The Tribe defeated The Citadel and tied West Virginia before falling to rival Richmond in the season finale.
Levy's teams won Grey Cups in the Canadian Football League and famously won four consecutive AFC Championships and played in four Super Bowls. But he said that when he reflects on the most memorable games he coached, there's the Bills' 41-38 playoff overtime win against Houston, when they erased a 35-3 second-half deficit in the biggest comeback in NFL history, and the Tribe's win at Navy.
"There are some others," Levy said, "but those two are always on the list."
Barton eagerly anticipates Saturday's reunion, when players and coaches can reminisce and tell stories. Details have grown fuzzy with time. Video of the Navy game likely will jog some memories and clarify others.
"I was happy that I didn't blow my assignments," he said with a chuckle. "That was kind of my contribution. I didn't let anyone get behind me. What I remember is going out there and doing what we practiced. Everybody did their assignments and did them pretty well. We were collectively just part of a bigger effort that had a great result."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun