Bills' Levy, 72, isn't ready to fade away

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Marv Levy has survived prostate cancer, a firing in Kansas City, stints in the CFL and USFL and four Super Bowl losses to become the second coach in NFL history to roam the sideline at age 72.

The other was George Halas, the legendary former Chicago Bears coach who didn't have to worry about being fired because he owned the team. He retired at 72.

Levy, who will bring the Bills to Memorial Stadium for the Ravens' final exhibition game Friday, doesn't own the team, but he's in the next-best situation. Bills owner Ralph Wilson, 78, says Levy can coach as long as he wants.

Since Levy appears to be in good health, there seems little doubt that next year at age 73, he'll become the oldest coach in NFL history.

He has coached the Bills 16 years, but aged 19 years in the process.

He now admits that when he was interviewed for the Bills' job in 1986, he was 61, but passed himself off as 58. "I was 61, and I didn't know if I would get the job. I didn't quite like the ring of 60, so I -- well, if you're allowed to lie, it has to be about your age," he said.

Despite his age, he can relate to today's players and runs an up-to-date training camp that is short on contact because he doesn't want to wear down his players.

The team had just eight two-a-day practices in camp this year and never more than two days in a row.

"You go any longer than that and you're just filling in," he said.

As assistant coach on George Allen's 1972 Washington Redskins Super Bowl team (along with Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda), he believes in Allen's "The Future Is Now" philosophy.

The Bills would appear to be rebuilding now that Jim Kelly and Kent Hull have retired and Thurman Thomas is nearing the end. But like Allen, Levy doesn't believe in rebuilding.

"My philosophy is get as good as you can as fast as you can," he said.

Levy likes to tell his players before every game, "Where would you rather be than right here, right now?"

Levy hopes to be right there on the sidelines a few more years.

Ending the holdouts

It wasn't exactly a surprise that top draft pick Orlando Pace and Ravens' pick Peter Boulware ended their holdouts on the same day Friday.

Pace's agent, Carl Poston, wanted to make sure that Ravens owner Art Modell didn't cave in to Boulware before he took the Rams' deal.

It's also the second straight year that Poston waited until Aug. 15 to get his first-round pick signed. That's when he made a deal for Tshimanga Biakabutka with Carolina last year.

The Pace holdout, though, was effective because the Rams did what the Ravens refused to do. They gave the 320-pound offensive tackle a deal with voidables. He gets a $6.3 million signing bonus, and then the deal voids after the third year when he can get another $3.5 million. He can also get $2.7 million in incentives.

Poston should have taken that deal immediately when the Rams offered it last week, but he wanted to wait to see if the Ravens would give Boulware a Jonathan Ogden-type deal.

The Ravens, though, stuck to their position that the Ogden deal was a one-year thing in their first year in Baltimore and held the line on Boulware. Only in the wacky world of sports could giving $6.8 million to a rookie be called holding the line.

But it was a victory for Ravens owner Art Modell and a loss for Eugene Parker, Boulware's agent, who gambled Modell would cave in.

It turned out Boulware's holdout was a waste of time. He could have gotten the same deal on the first day of camp because the Ravens had planned to pay him 43 percent of their rookie salary cap this year, and they did.

It'll be interesting now to see how many first-round clients Parker recruits next year. He had four first-rounders this year and didn't break new ground in any of the four contracts.

The Ravens also may avoid a first-round holdout next year because they can point out Boulware didn't gain anything by holding out.

Battling injuries

The rash of preseason injuries has started the debate again about whether the four-game preseason is too long.

Troy Aikman, the Dallas Cowboys' quarterback, is one advocate of playing fewer exhibition games.

"I think four and five preseason games is too much. If every team is coming in with the same amount of time, I think you're limiting some injuries and teams are [still] going to be ready," he said.

It's not going to happen, though. For one thing, Aikman's boss, Dallas owner Jerry Jones, is against the idea, and not much happens in the league that Jones opposes.

Jones said the teams need four games to get ready.

"We've just got to recognize it's a hard thing to get a team ready and still be prudent and smart taking risk with your key players," he said.

What Jones doesn't say it that the owners make money off preseason games, and making money is Jones' favorite activity.

There's also no guarantee that playing just two exhibition games would cut down on the injuries. This year's rash of injuries came in the first two games.

The league has done all kinds of things to prevent injuries -- such as the $20,000 fine on Bill Romanowski for breaking Kerry Collins' jaw -- but injuries will always be part of football.

Pleasant's comeback

Former Ravens defensive end Anthony Pleasant, who was never the same last year after suffering an ankle injury on the first play of the first game, is making a comeback with the Atlanta Falcons.

Pleasant got a sack in each of the first two exhibition games and coach Dan Reeves said, "It is great to see him healthy again. I always thought he was one of the best rushers before he got hurt, and he's showing that again. We're lucky to have him."

Pleasant turned down the Ravens' offer of $1.5 million a season and then became expendable when they signed Michael McCrary.

Pleasant then signed one of those popular gimmick contracts with the Falcons. He got a $500,000 signing bonus and a 'D $400,000 base salary and is listed for a $4 million base next season.

The Falcons aren't likely to pay him $4 million next year, but it means he'll be a free agent and have some negotiating leverage if he has a big season.

While Pleasant is off to a fast start in Atlanta, McCrary is sidelined with a freak knee injury he suffered while walking his dog. Maybe that Ravens right end position is jinxed.

Stalemate in Indianapolis

The Colts are having problems making a deal to stay in Indianapolis.

The city's Capital Improvement Board, which manages the RCA Dome, offered to turn over the $5 million to $8 million it gets from parking, concession, signage and advertising and luxury boxes to the Colts, but the Colts say it's not enough.

Team counsel Michael Chernoff, who negotiated the deal with Indianapolis in 1984 to move the Colts from Baltimore, said the offer "will not permit the Colts to be competitive on and off the field."

Mayor Stephen Goldsmith said he opposes using any tax revenue to help the Colts.

No deadline has been set in the talks, but the Colts have to decide by November 1998 whether they want to move to Cleveland to become the Browns.

Owner Jim Irsay isn't keen on moving to Cleveland, which would mean his team would become the Browns and Baltimore could get the Colts name back. But Irsay may be running out of options.

Quotebook

Tampa Bay linebacker Hardy Nickerson on what it would be like for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to end a 14-year drought and make the playoffs, "It'd be like New Year's and Christmas every day."

Pub Date: 8/17/97

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