June 22, 2021

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Marv Levy, Cornelius Bennett, former Bills eager…

6 min read
Marv Levy, Cornelius Bennett, former Bills eager...

Marv Levy’s plans are set. When the Buffalo Bills visit the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday (6:40 p.m. ET, CBS), he’ll be watching closely on television from his Chicago residence.

“Oh yeah, I’m planning to do that. Definitely. I’ll pull for them and think of the fans, and hope all goes well,” Levy said.

“I know how ecstatic they must be. They are fantastic. They are the best fans that I’ve ever come across. After we lost our first Super Bowl [in 1991] and the way they responded, I said, ‘You are the reason that is going to contribute heavily to our going back to the Super Bowl.’ I admire them wonderfully.”

Now Levy, who is 95 years old and was the Bills coach the last time the franchise played in an AFC Championship Game 27 years ago, is proudly one of them.

He isn’t alone.

The Bills’ return to prominence has sparked excitement and admiration from others who were part of that 1993 team, such as Pro Football Hall of Famer Bruce Smith.

Former Bills linebacker Cornelius Bennett, 55, joins Smith in his exuberance over what is unfolding. He sees an obvious link between the ’93 team and the current squad.

“We were a very tight-knit group of characters, known to enjoy each other’s company the way these kids seem to be doing right now — seeing them react on the sidelines, or dancing to music at practice,” Bennett said. “As far as coming together and changing the whole mindset of the team, that’s been one of the biggest things that I’ve noticed.”

Bennett played for Buffalo from 1987 to 1995 — a key cog on teams that advanced to the Super Bowl four straight years and lost each time — before moving on the Atlanta Falcons (1996-98) and Indianapolis Colts (1999-00). He said of the Bills: “I definitely claim them as my team.”

Bennett has lived in South Florida for the past 20 years, describing himself as “enjoying the fruits of my labor” while serving his church, with social media making it easy for him to connect with Bills’ fans.

Meanwhile, seven-time Pro Bowl special teamer Steve Tasker (1986-97) has remained in Western New York in his post-playing days — similar to Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly. Thus, Tasker has an on-the-scene feel for how the Bills’ current success mirrors what he experienced in ’93.

“For a region that has been trapped by this [coronavirus pandemic] for 10 to 11 months, it’s a pretty bright light at the end of the tunnel. It’s been an absolute life jacket to the emotional health of the entire region,” said Tasker, 58, a former CBS analyst who works with WGR Radio and local TV.

“It is the absolute only thing that is giving people a reason to get up in the morning. It runs deep and it’s pretty cool to see. The fans actually at the stadium are beside themselves with joy about this team, and I know everybody else is, too.”

Many Bills followers have noted another link between the ’93 team and this year’s squad.

Not only did the Bills’ last appearance in the AFC Championship Game come against the Chiefs (a 30-13 win in Buffalo), but the ’93 team had the similar experience of having lost to Kansas City earlier that season.

“They thumped us big-time,” Tasker said of the game in which the Joe Montana-led Chiefs posted a 23-7 victory on Nov. 28, 1993. “We were embarrassed.”

Of course, this year’s Bills team lost to the visiting Chiefs, 26-17, on Oct. 19. That game has been a hot-button topic in recent days, with coach Sean McDermott and players fielding multiple questions from reporters on how the Bills have evolved since.

Could the 2020 Bills make like the 1993 Bills and return the favor by beating the Chiefs?

“It was redemption, playing against two of the great all-time players on offense there,” said Bennett, referencing Montana and running back Marcus Allen. “I was telling someone the other day, it’s cool that they’re going to Kansas City, very reminiscent of 1993 and the championship game, but [ours] was in Buffalo.”

If that has been a striking similarity to Bills alums, there are other major differences.

“This team, unlike the ’93 team, is at the beginning of an era instead of the end of it,” Tasker said. “The ’93 team had four-to-five Hall of Famers on it. This team, while that may be true for some of these guys, we don’t know who they are, yet.”

Levy, who is one of those Hall of Famers, has developed a connection with McDermott, who at 46 is in his fourth year as the Bills’ coach.

“He’s terrific. We’ve communicated a little bit. He’s a William & Mary guy and I always have such high regard for those guys I coached through my five years, many years ago, at William & Mary [1964-68]. They are the essence of the student-athlete,” Levy said.

“I just know in talking to him, he wants to prepare, it’s not all fire and brimstone and pep talk. It’s preparation that counts.”

Levy added he doesn’t know the Bills’ personnel as well as he once did, but quarterback Josh Allen “is great,” especially when paired with a “a receiver like [Stefon] Diggs.”

Allen, now in his third NFL season, has embraced trying to fill the Pro Football Hall of Fame-sized shoes of Kelly, who remains a legend in Western New York. When it comes to similarities between the two, Tasker said: “The big arm is there. But Josh’s ability to run, Jim never did that. We used to tease Jim about his inability to be an athlete.”

Allen’s transformation is at the heart of how Tasker defines the current team.

“They sling it around. Josh is a really supremely gifted quarterback — athletically, with his arm, he’s really smart. He has been in this offense for three years and it shows. He has made an incredible jump in his play this year. The guys around him, they love this guy, he’s a warrior. When your most important player is the kind of guy Josh is, it elevates the entire squad,” Tasker said.

“With Stefon Diggs playing the way he is, the offensive line is settled, I think this is a team that is really, really confident in what they have to do and their ability to get it done.”

If they do get it done, beating the Chiefs as they did in 1993 to advance to the Super Bowl, Bennett has an idea of what it will be like in Western New York. After all, he lived it 27 years ago.

And if they ever finished it off with a Super Bowl victory?

“Wow! I hope to be there celebrating with them in some kind of capacity,” Bennett said. “I would love to say ‘World Champion Buffalo Bills.’ Finally.”