WASHINGTON, D.C. (WIVB)–The first thing you should know about Rich Luchette, the man who started the petition to rename the Bills’ stadium for Marv Levy, is that he works for the enemy.
Luchette, a native of East Aurora and lifelong Bills fan, has spent the last decade working as director of communications for David Cicilline, the U.S. Representative for the 1st district in Rhode Island. Yes, the little state in the heart of Patriots country.
Cicilline, a Providence native, is an unrepentant New England fan. This has been the source of some friendly needling over the years, most of it, of course, directed toward the long-suffering Bills fan on staff.
“We like to joke about it,” Luchette said Wednesday from Washington, D.C. “Whenever the Bills would play the Patriots, his Twitter feed would be ‘Touchdown Pats’ or ‘Way to go, Brady.’ Mine would be ‘Why do I keep doing this to myself?’”
Luchette was born to it, like many Bills fans. He does have fond, distant memories. At 33, he’s old enough — barely — to remember the glory days, when Buffalo fans took the playoffs for granted and the Pats were the laughingstock of the AFC.
“I don’t remember the Norwood one, but every other Super Bowl,” he said. “I remember being at a friend’s house for the Redskins one. We had a party at our house for the Cowboys, and the second Cowboys one we had just moved to Ohio. We watched it in our living room without any furniture, on a tiny TV.”
Luchette’s family moved to Cincinnati when he was 7 — right after the Bills beat the Chiefs at home in the AFC title game and before they lost the fourth Super Bowl to Dallas. You have to respect a fan who connects major life events to Bills games.
He remained loyal. Those wretched Bengals teams of the 1990s were certainly not an option. Besides, most of his mother’s large, extended family still lives in the Buffalo area. His grandfather lived just minutes from the stadium. The Bills were his connection to his roots.
So last month, when he heard that New Era was giving up the naming rights to the stadium, Luchette decided to take action. People were tossing around ideas — naming it after veterans, putting Ralph Wilson’s name back on it. He thought it would be fitting to name it after the finest coach in team history.
“The more I thought about it, the more sense it made. He’s the greatest coach in the team’s history. He’s 95 years old. Who knows how much longer they’re going to play in that stadium? Why not honor him in this way, the same way Curly Lambeau was honored in Green Bay (and Paul Brown in Cincinnati).”
As a communications director, Luchette had some experience in putting together campaigns. He’s been involved in politics since he graduated from Georgetown a dozen years ago. He’s worked on winning and losing campaigns, for gubernatorial spots and congressional seats. He knows the drill.
“I’m by no means an expert,” he said, “but I’m familiar enough to know how to start a change.org petition. I put that together, sent it around to a couple of family members. I sent it to my cousin (Shaun O’Brien) and some other folks. It grew organically from there.”
The petition had 500 names within a day or two. Last week, on his lunch break, Luchette crafted a press release and sent it out to all the pertinent media, urging the Pegulas to rename the Bills stadium in Levy’s honor. Here’s the crux of the news release:
“Throughout his career, Marv Levy demonstrated the attributes of decency, resilience, and an intellectual dexterity that is too rare in today’s NFL. Renaming the stadium in his honor would be a fitting tribute to this great man and a worthy capstone on his football career.”
Luchette said the campaign “just blew up” once the press release began to circulate. He said it had more than 2,500 signatures the last he checked — on the day when Levy turned 95 — which was substantial enough to send off as an official plea to Terry and Kim Pegula.
There’s a sense that this is a chance for Buffalo to be ennobled by honoring veterans or civic heroes instead of selling the name to a company. Luchette believes Levy qualifies, that he’s a cut above the typical football coach and brought dignity to Western New York — and great victory — when he ran the Bills.
“I’ve always admired him, and not just for what he achieved on the field,” Luchette said. “It’s a cliche, but he was a good role model in the values he instilled in those teams. It’s been said a million and one times, but his teams had such resilience.
“But also, I think growing up as a kid who was a diehard Bills fan but had other interests, like politics and history, his respect for learning and knowledge always spoke to me.”
Luchette only met Levy once, when Marv was in Chicago at a book signing for his autobiography, ‘Where Would You Rather be?’ Rich’s family had moved to Chicago, and his grandfather had given him the book as an 18th birthday present.
“He could not have been a nicer guy,” Luchette said. “I chatted with him a little bit about the Bills. I was wearing an Andre Reed jersey for the event.”
Imagine if the Pegulas agree to name the stadium for Marv Levy, then the Bills go on to win the Super Bowl. These are the sort of fanciful ideas that sustain Buffalo sports fans in a pandemic. That and seeing a bunch of Patriots opt-out of the season in the wake of Brady’s departure to Tampa Bay.
Finally, it might be time for Congressman Cicilline to be the butt of the football jokes on Twitter.
“The city of Boston, they’ve been on this ridiculous run of good luck,” Luchette said. “I’m sure you’ve seen that kid at one of the parades with the sign that said “15 years old and 17 parades” or whatever it is. Now that Brady is gone, I’m hopeful that will start to turn.”
And yes, as a man who does communications for a living and spends time on Twitter, he knows about the Buffalo grandmother whose hatred for Brady was included in her obituary.
“Yes, yes!” Luchette said. “I sent that to so many Buffalo ex-pats out here. This woman is my hero.”