Phi Beta Kappa may hold key for Bills; league faces decisions

Instant culture, which had never been high on their priority list before, came to the downtrodden Buffalo Bills nearly a month ago when they brought in Marv Levy as their new head coach. Marvelous Marv is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Coe College, where he specialized in history. He also holds an English degree from Harvard. But he was not Buffalo owner Ralph Wilson's first stab at the unusual, Wilson having once employed a head coach, Lou Saban, who spoke Chinese!

The knowledgeable Levy, whose previous National Football League coaching experience occurred with the Kansas City Chiefs (1978-82), is merely the third head man the Bills have employed in the last 14 months. This is also the fifth time Wilson has changed field commanders in the middle of a season.

Levy's immediate predecessor, Hank Bullough, was reportedly fired because Wilson didn't think the offense fully utilized the throwing arm of Jim Kelly, the Bills' $8 million quarterback.

Levy, it is understood, will give Kelly more freedom on the field, including permission to disappear from the pocket anytime he feels like seeing what develops that way.

Marv is also expected to create better pass patterns for Jim's receivers in what remains of this season, and even more innovative routes by the time the Bills complete their first training camp under his tutelage.

After all, in 1984 Kelly threw for 44 touchdowns in his rookie year in the now inactive United States Football League. And while the USFL was no equal of the NFL, it still played 11 men to a side.

Although Kelly may never be that good on the run, he has shown an ability to throw effectively from both inside and outside the pocket. Jim also has a quick release, plus an exceptionally strong arm.

That arm, in fact, has sometimes been too strong - producing a ``heavy ball'' that his teammates had trouble handling. Having learned to take something off his throws, however, Jim is making it a lot easier these days for his receivers to hang on to the ball.

Despite their 3-9 record, the Bills are capable of giving any team a battle on a given day - as they showed in their very first game of the season when they nearly upset the New York Jets, and again Sunday when they threw a big scare into heavily favored New England before the Patriots pulled it out, 22-19, in the closing minutes.

Overall, though, Buffalo remains a team in transition. Not everybody fits together yet, and Levy is in the uncomfortable position of having inherited someone else's coaching staff.

On offense, it's obvious that Buffalo needs to beef up its running game to complement Kelly and keep opposing defenses honest. Another top off-season priority will undoubtedly be to get more help in the pass-catching department.

But the main reason this will continue to be a counterfeit season for the Bills is that those hired to protect Buffalo's goal line are prone to take instant and unannounced vacations.

In the immortal lines of sports writer/playwright Bill Shakespeare: ``Methinks thy defense dost not protest enough!'' or something to that effect. Elsewhere around the NFL

No NFL team has signed a Heisman Trophy winner right out of college since 1981, but that should change now that the rival United States Football League is at least temporarily out of operation. Miami quarterback Vinny Testaverde looks like a cinch to win the Heisman and ink a multi-million-dollar NFL deal with whatever team drafts him, possibly the winless Indianapolis Colts. Last year's Heisman winner, Bo Jackson, opted for a baseball career. The three before that, Doug Flutie, Mike Rozier, and Herschel Walker, originally signed and started their pro careers with USFL teams, although all three are now playing in the NFL.

Is it better to be a running team or one that lives and dies with the pass? ``My feeling is that anytime you can run with the football, you have an excellent chance to win,'' says Denver coach Dan Reeves. ``Running helps you control the ball for long periods of time. The pass is great, because with it you can often score very quickly. But I think the run makes the defense pay a higher price physically, so that maybe it isn't quite as sharp in the fourth period.''

NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle has some major policy and financial decisions coming up. For example, the league's bargaining agreement with the NFL Players' Association expires next Aug. 31. Once again, the players would like to have their retirement package beefed up. New contracts also have to be worked out with the networks that televise games. ``We're going to have to scale down our costs of living, and the networks are going to have to give us a little more money than they'd like to,'' Rozelle said. Beyond that, the NFL is looking at expansion again, with a possibility of two new teams being added by 1989. Eventually the league could grow to 32 franchises.

The NFL is quietly taking a look at the effects of steroids use, making it almost as big a priority as its concern with cocaine abuse. Steroids, which are intended to stimulate a buildup of weight and muscles, reportedly do the body a great deal of permanent harm over even a short period of use.

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