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Former Alouettes head coach Marv Levy tops 2021 Canadian Football Hall of Fame class

HAMILTON — Marv Levy has joined a very limited fraternity.

HAMILTON — Marv Levy has joined a very limited fraternity.

The 95-year-old Chicago native, who guided the Montreal Alouettes to two Grey Cup titles over five seasons as head coach, headlines the '21 class named Tuesday for induction into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. 

When Levy is formally inducted in November, he'll join Warren Moon and Bud Grant as the only individuals to be in both the Canadian and Pro Football Halls of Fame.

"It certainly is meaningful," Levy said. "I knew both of those people fairly well.

"I'm tremendously honoured and just grateful for the recognition that's coming."

Joining Levy for enshrinement during Grey Cup week in Hamilton will be fellow builder Doug Mitchell and former CFL players Will Johnson, Nik Lewis, Orlondo Steinauer, Mike Walker and Don Wilson. The '20 class is scheduled for induction Aug. 6, also in Hamilton, after last year's ceremony was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The inclusion of the '21 class will boost the Hall of Fame's membership to 316.

Levy took his first pro head-coaching position in Canada when he joined the Alouettes in 1973. Over five seasons in Montreal, Levy posted a 43-31-4 record and guided his teams to three Grey Cup appearances, winning in 1974 (when he was also the league's top coach) and '77 before being hired by the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs in ’78.

Levy compiled a 31-42 record with Kansas City before heading to Buffalo, The Bills were 112-70 under Levy (1986-97), won 11-of-19 playoff contests and reached the Super Bowl four straight seasons (1990-93, all losses).

Levy returned to Buffalo as GM in 2006 at age 80. He remains the winningest coach in Bills history.

"I coached for 47 years, only five of them were with the Montreal Alouettes but they remain so prominent in my fond memories," Levy said. "I was a history major in college and I learned so much about the history of Canada and the relationship with the United States and I learned to speak a bit of French.

"I was blessed to have a wonderful owner in Sam Berger and his family I got to know well and so many other people there. I was entranced by the city of Montreal and loved living there well beyond the football field. It was not just an enjoyable occasion but a tremendous educational experience as well."

Mitchell, 82, of Calgary, graduated from Colorado College and the University of British Columbia and played briefly with the B.C. Lions in 1960 before joining the legal profession. Mitchell served as CFL commissioner from 1984-1988.

Mitchell also has an extensive background in Canadian university sports, creating and serving as chairman of the annual BLG Awards honouring Canadian collegiate athletes. The Mitchell Bowl, which is one of the Vanier Cup semifinal contests, bears his name.

In 2004, Mitchell was appointed to the Order of Canada. Three years later, he was inducted into the Alberta Order of Excellence.

"This would really be at the top of the list," Mitchell said of his Hall of Fame appointment. "I went to university in the U.S. on a hockey scholarship and turned out for the football team in my last year and I'd have to say that football has impacted my life dramatically . . . particularly in business where I learned to be a teammate, quite frankly."

Johnson, 56, of Monroe, La., began his pro career with the NFL's Chicago Bears (1987) before joining the Calgary Stampeders. During his time in Alberta (1989-1996) and with the Saskatchewan Roughriders (1997), Johnson was a five-time league all-star who registered 99 career sacks (13th all-time) with 288 tackles, eight fumble recoveries and an interception.

Johnson helped Calgary win the '92 Grey Cup.

"When I was called and informed of this honour I wasn't sure because April Fools was coming around soon," Johnson said. "So I did call my son and I started weeping because it's all about what I've been teaching my kids.

"You work hard in life and eventually you will be rewarded. You're going to jump through some hoops but you've got to continue to persevere and keep punching forth and 24 years later, here I am."

Lewis, 38, of Mineral Wells, Texas, played 14 CFL seasons with Calgary (2004-2014) and Montreal (2015-17). He was the league's top rookie in 2004 and 10 times was a 1,000-yard receiver, the first nine coming with the Stampeders before cracking that plateau for the final time in 2016 with the Alouettes.

A two-time Grey Cup champion with Calgary, Lewis remains the CFL's all-time receptions leader (1,051) and said his final 1,000-yard campaign with a 7-11 Montreal squad remains a career highlight.

"That one probably means the most to me . . . the adversity we had," he said. "I truly feel my Montreal experience showed me so much.

"I was voted captain for the first time in my career . . . it was a great feeling to go to work every day because of the talent I got to go to work with."

Steinauer, a 47-year-old Seattle native, is preparing for his second season as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats' head coach. He was named the CFL's top coach in 2019 after leading his club to a franchise-record 15 regular-season wins but that campaign ended with a 33-12 loss to Winnipeg in the Grey Cup.

Steinauer spent 13 seasons as a CFL defensive back with Ottawa (1996), Hamilton (1997-2000) and Toronto (2001-08). A two-time Grey Cup champion, Steinauer was named an all-star at three different positions (cornerback, halfback and safety), recording 49 interceptions and returning five for TDs.

His 1,178 interception return yards remain the second-most in CFL history. 

Steinauer had enrolled in teachers' college in 1996 after being released by the NFL's Detroit Lions before the Rough Riders came calling.

"I'm a kid from Seattle, Washington, . . . and so I was aware of the CFL (but) I was not aware of where Ottawa was," Steinauer recollected. "Ottawa called and asked if I'd come on their practice roster, which excited me because I'd come from the NFL and thought the practice roster was pretty good money.

"They said, 'Come on up, it's about $500 a week,' and I was like, 'What?' But I wanted to play football and so I went and had a look. (Defensive back) Tommy Henry had an ankle injury and that's how it all started . . . that was the reason for the call because they had an injury and so I went there."

Steinauer's stay in Ottawa was short as the franchise folded at season's end. But the Western Washington Star emerged as a CFL star the following year in Hamilton before entering the coaching ranks as an assistant with Toronto in 2010.

Walker, 62, of Indianapolis, played 10 CFL seasons as a defensive lineman with Hamilton (1982-89) and Edmonton (1990-91). He appeared in 135 career games, registering 95.5 sacks (14th all-time, including a career-high 21 in 1986) and participating in four Grey Cup games, winning in 1986.

A four-time CFL all-star, Walker has also served as a defensive line coach at Washington State, his alma mater, as well as in the CFL with Toronto, Edmonton and Saskatchewan. He continues to recover from neck and back surgery.

"I was in a wheelchair for a year and now I'm back to walking with assistance," Walker said. "I either use a walker or my walking sticks.

"I don't want to see that wheelchair. My goal is to be able to walk again unassisted."

Wilson, 59, of Washington, played 12 CFL seasons as a defensive back with Edmonton (1987-89, 1993-94, 1998), Toronto (1990-92, 1995-96) and B.C. (1997). The four-time league all-star was a member of four Grey Cup-winning teams, amassing 61 interceptions (fifth all-time) with 667 tackles and 1,046 interception return yards (fourth all-time).

Wilson also scored eight defensive touchdowns, leaving him tied for third all-time.

"I believe championships and the Hall of Fame are the goals of most athletes," Wilson said. "I didn't think about (the Canadian Football Hall of Fame) I just enjoyed what I was doing, I was just doing it for the love of the game. 

"But when I heard about (being inducted), it just warmed my heart so much because I think in the back of most athletes' minds they'd want to reach that kind of pinnacle . . . anything to signify that you've done a great job of what you were doing."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 13, 2021

The Canadian Press