Marv Levy still finds quiet joy in seeing his Buffalo Bills clinch a playoff berth, the way they did so often during his Hall-of-Fame career on the sidelines.
"I'm just pleased, like almost all Bills fans," the 96-year-old former coach said this week. "I don't go out and get drunk over it, but I follow them, and I'm pleased."
Levy might celebrate by sending a congratulatory email to Sean McDermott, the way he did when the Bills clinched the AFC East title last season. McDermott beamed that December night while discussing the correspondence and his relationship with Levy. He referred to the moment as humbling.
The link between the two strengthened on Sunday. The Bills clinched a spot in the playoffs with their 29-15 victory over the Atlanta Falcons, placing McDermott alongside Levy as the only two coaches in franchise history to lead the team to the postseason in four of their first five full seasons.
Levy watched with admiration as McDermott and the Bills navigated a campaign that was far less linear than 2020, when they ended the regular season with six straight victories en route to the AFC Championship game. This year's team alternated between winning and losing for seven consecutive weeks, a pattern that ended only when a comeback fell short in Tampa and the Bills lost two straight.
But Levy knows the path to success is rarely linear. His Bills made the AFC Championship in 1988, then ended the 1989 campaign with five losses in their last seven games before making their first Super Bowl appearance the following season. So many of the coach's famous "Marvisms" paint adversity as being pertinent to success.
"In the NFL it's rare, even for the great teams, that there isn't some up and down," Levy said. "It has been that (for the Bills). And the fact that they can bounce back from those disappointing moments is a pretty good indication of the character of the team, the approach of the coaching staff. I'm very, very impressed with the work that Sean has done. I'm not surprised."
McDermott has helped develop the Bills into one of the NFL's most consistent franchises since making the playoffs in 2017, his first season as head coach. He is one of only three active coaches with 10 or more wins in each of the last three seasons, joining his mentor Andy Reid (seven straight) and the Packers' Matt LaFleur (three straight).
"It means a lot," McDermott said. "I'm just one piece of it. I think it says a lot about Terry and Kim and what they give us, the resources they've provided us over the years and the partnership that I have with Brandon and the coaches who've done a phenomenal job, a lot of good players for those four or five years now.
"It's been a team effort, the fans included. It hasn't all been the highest of highs all the time. That's to be expected around the NFL."
The Bills clinched a playoff spot with a 29-15 win over Atlanta.
Safeties Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde joined the Bills along with McDermott in 2017. They reflected for a moment Sunday, considering the progress made from that drought-busting season to their subdued celebration following the win over the Falcons.
"To be where we came from and to be leaders on this team and have us go to the playoffs four out of five years, it's truly special," Poyer said. "The guys work hard, man. It's a special group. Special guys, great teammates and guys come in and work hard and so definitely feel like we've earned it."
If adversity is a given in the NFL, then it only makes sense to safeguard against it. How an individual might respond to hardships was top of mind when Levy and then-general manager Bill Polian constructed the great teams of the early '90s, the same way McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane prioritize the quality of people they bring in each offseason.
Levy drops a Marvism when describing the approach he sought from players.
"Celebrate or mourn for just a short while, then go back to work make that your style," he says, still exuding the enthusiasm that made him a beloved leader on teams ripe with Hall of Famers.
McDermott credited his leaders with turning the page after an upset loss to Jacksonville in Week 8. Quarterback Josh Allen insisted the Bills were better than the performance they turned in during a blowout loss to the Colts in Week 10, then went out and proved it five weeks later with a near flawless performance at New England.
Look no further than Sunday's win over the Falcons for the most recent example. Allen threw an uncharacteristic three interceptions, allowing the Falcons to erase a 12-point deficit and pull ahead, 15-14. The Bills offense responded by leaning on running back Devin Singletary, who rushed for a season-high 110 yards and two touchdowns.
It was a far cry from earlier this season, when Singletary played less than half of offensive snaps in all but one game from Weeks 3 to 11. When asked about the running back's resurgence, Allen gushed not about his skill or elusiveness but about his work ethic and attention to detail.
"I allude to it every time I talk about him, every single play you see him doing the right thing," Allen said. "And when you've got a guy that just wants to do the right thing and help the team win, typically those guys are going to make the plays when they're called upon."
Added veteran center Mitch Morse: "For the most part, good people correlate to good football players and he's a good person. He's a good dude who works really hard."
The Bills, by design, have constructed a roster of good people. They have fostered continuity in their leadership group, from Hyde and Poyer to Allen and left tackle Dion Dawkins, another member of that original 2017 group.
And, behind it all, they have a coach worth playing for.
"Sean is everything," Dawkins said. "Sean is our head spear. That's our leaderboard. Like, he is our leader. It just shows that Sean is Sean. He's a stone-cold killer in the face. But he knows exactly what he is doing. He knows what to do.
"He knows how to fuel his players. And he knows how to, honestly, lead the right way. And when you treat your guys right, your guys rally. And that's exactly what we are doing. We are rallying behind a leader that treats his troops right."