Levy discusses Hall nominees

The architect behind Buffalo's four AFC titles offers his always-unique perspective on the three Bills up for Hall of Fame induction. His full responses from a conference call are inside...

Click here to see Jim Kelly's conference call responses.

On Bruce Smith:

The statistics are even more surprising in terms of sacks when you know he played in the 3-4 defensive front, which isn't usually as productive in sacks for defensive ends as the 4-3. Nevertheless, he's the all-time leader. He's a guy that kept getter better and better. He came in a little bit as an overweight, over-indulgent great player, but he got better and a lot of it is attributed to some of his teammates, guys like Darryl Talley, a lot of it to his wife, who shaped him up, he began to become a guy who was in great condition. He was a guy, all through practice and all through games, it was amazing, he played with a smile on his face. He just loved being around it. This look that he had; and he always seemed to enjoy the game so much and that spilled off on his teammates. He was great against the run, great against the pass, and he hated to come out of the game, but he did, when we tried to relieve him. He's the best that ever played at the spot, and I certainly hope that he's going to be inducted.

On his favorite memory of Bruce Smith on or off of the field:

Well, this doesn't apply to his playing, but three years in a row, Bruce had knee injuries, and he went home to rehab. When he came back in the fall, he wasn't quite ready to go. So when it happened again, I told him, ‘Bruce, you can't go home again this year, you've got to stay here.' And he said, ‘oh, no, I'm not staying around.' I said, ‘oh, yes, you are.' ‘Oh no, I'm not.' And back and forth, and finally I said to him, very subdued, ‘Bruce, if you don't stay, we're going to suspend you.' And he walked out down the hall sort of angry, and then I heard his footsteps stop and come back and then he looked back in with a smile on his face and said, ‘Coach, I listened to you the closest when you lower your voice.' So, I don't know if that's what you're looking for or not, but in terms of on the playing field, he had a motor that was unbelievable, that just kept going and going. He made the players around him better, but he had some doggone good players around him and they helped make him better.

On the candidacy of Mr. Wilson and Andre Reed:

First of all, Mr. Wilson, here's a man, the only owner of an original AFL team still in the same city, still with the same owner. Forty-nine years, the same town, many opportunities to move for what would have been, monetarily, much more attractive circumstances, that's fine. The loyalty to the city and to the team and to the people there who took the franchise has been unmatched. He's a guy that related to players, they knew him, they liked him. In terms of coach/owner relationship, we could exchange views, even disagreements in such a way that we were better for it. But beyond all of that, he's a man in the game who came into it for the love of the game, not for the rewards financially. He contributed so much to the game, he's been on every committee and part of many of the most major changes and moves that the league has made. If anyone ever deserves it, it's Ralph Wilson.

Andre, may be one of the most underrated receivers that ever played the game. When he retired, he was the third-most prolific receiver in yardage of all-time. I believe Jerry Rice, and I forget who the other one was at that time. He's very self-effacing. He was on a team where there were other guys like James Lofton, Don Beebe, and Thurman Thomas, who were racking up big stats, and maybe, if he hadn't been, his stats would have been even greater. Certainly not a self-promoter. He deserves to be in, also. Is it difficult to get three in from one team a year? Sure. But the difficult we do now, I was in the Army Air Corps during World War II, our motto was: ‘the difficult we do now, the impossible takes a little longer.' Well, this is difficult, Andre belongs in.

On the thought that a lot of receivers could have put up the numbers that Reed did in the Bills offense:

Well, you know, Andre was a tremendous team player. The great comeback game, three touchdowns, he had one quality that every great receiver should have, and they don't all have. All receivers have to, quote, catch the ball. He had great run-after-the-catch ability. Tremendous run-after-the-catch ability, and again, I didn't hear what you said, something about other receivers, but guys like Lofton, Beebe, Billy Brooks for a while, all with the team, and that might have even diminished further his statistics, but they still were pretty darn impressive. And it was a team that wasn't primarily pass-oriented. We had great balance on our team. We ran the ball a considerable amount of time. Look at Thurman Thomas, Kenny Davis, et cetera.

On Reed being a blue-chip athlete:

He was, and part of which he was blessed, part because of his hard work and his conscientiousness, getting himself that way. He came out, fourth-round draft choice, of a small college Kutztown State, and the same year, there was a receiver picked in the second round, Chris Burkett, and yet Andre emerged to be such an outstanding player. He was superb physical specimen, and if you see him today, which I do upon occasion, he still looks like he could cover some kickoffs, at least.

On Smith's physical abilities:

Bruce Smith came out as the number one pick in the draft because of great ability. Bruce was an amazing all-around athlete, here was a guy that many people say was the best prep basketball player coming out of high school his senior year in Virginia. Virginia Tech wanted him to play basketball, so he has those abilities. I know my first year there, he weighed about 315 pounds, he wasn't in the weight room that much, but boy, he got the light soon from, again, Darryl Talley helped spur it, his own wife helped spur it. He became a 265-pounder who was as quick off of the ball as anybody you can imagine. His ability to change direction and give you that one quick move this way and then cut that way was great. Another thing about Bruce that I tremendously admired is his regard for the game. He played clean football. He wasn't out to hurt his opponent. He was out to defeat him fair and square in competition. I remember once a defense line coach came in and complained that Bruce wouldn't do what he was being instructed to do. I called Bruce in and put him on the grill, and said, ‘what's going on?' And he said, ‘he wants be to do something dirty!' And boy, my regard for him soared. He said, ‘I won't do that.' And so players that played against him feared him, but they feared him because of his abilities, not because he was going to be doing something dirty.

On Smith accomplishing what he did while being double-teamed much of the time:

Right, I've always said, ‘good players make other players better.' And Bruce had some players, that, maybe they weren't Bruce Smith, but some pretty good guys that played for him, with him, I should say. Phil Hansen, the other defensive end through a lot of his career, Leon Seals played well for a couple of years. (Fred) Smerlas and Jeff Wright at the nose tackles were pretty darn good guys. He had an excellent linebacking corps with which to work: Talley, Cornelius Bennett, Shane Conlan, to name a few, and Bryce Paup, who could bring the blitz from the other side, so you know, Bruce got a lot of doubling-up on and still defeated it, but having good teammates around him maybe minimized the amount of times people could do that, so it helps. Every quarterback has to have good players around him. At the outset, Peyton Manning was 3-13, Troy Aikman was 1-15, and Jim Kelly's first year was a losing season, but you get good guys around you and your own ability really begins to shine. And it really shone when the opportunity came.

On not having to overextend his defense:

Absolutely true. We weren't a heavy, blitz-a-lot-of-people team. Maybe much less than others, because we had a lot of coverage and a tremendous number of interceptions because of the people in the secondary had a great minimization of big-play bombs that could be executed against us because of single, one-on-one coverage. So all of that fits together and the fact that he was such a great pass-rusher didn't require us to bring too many others.

On Mr. Wilson's attitude towards the league and the Will Wolford controversy:

I'm not truly real conversant with all of the details on that. I believe at the time, the rules were a little different on free agency and that an offer was made that found a loophole in the rules, which allowed Will to move away and Mr. Wilson, while he recognized that was what the rule was and said ok, we didn't want to lose Will, for many reasons, he said ok, he did go to work and helped change the rules, so that being able to bypass it couldn't occur in the future. Too late for us, but good for the league. I say all of that without really being able to pinpoint exactly the details of that situation.

On if getting four members of the early 90s Bills teams into the Hall of Fame takes any of the sting away from losing four Super Bowls:

Well, they remain separate subjects. Let me put it this way: the losses of the Super Bowls hurt tremendously for a time, but you can't continue to just lie there and whimper. You have to recognize the good. There's one way never to lose a Super Bowl, and that's don't go to it. But that these fellows are going in is tremendously gratifying. The fact that we lost four Super Bowls hasn't diminished one iota the feelings and the belief and the respect for the men on that team and for all of the people in the organization, really, that stuck together so well during that time, and that starts with Mr. Wilson. Seeing Jim and Thurman, and hopefully Bruce, Ralph, and Andre, and maybe more, I think Steve Tasker is deserving too, by the way – he's voted the best special teams player that ever played the game – and that's one-third of the game, he should go in. I realize we're not talking about Steve at this point, but I got off on a tangent there. So yes, it's tremendously gratifying to see them go in.


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