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Fort Cherry Alum Bengals Coach Marvin Lewis

Rossi: Bengals coach Lewis better than his win-loss record

 

There is a part of Steelers Country where Cincinnati's Bengals are the good guys. And if that doesn't make sense, that means you probably never met the late Marvin Lewis of McDonald, Pa.

Neither did I.

But let me tell you about his son, whom I've long known not to judge based off a win-loss record.

On the 11th day of November in 2001, that Marvin Lewis took a phone call from the defensive coordinator for the Fort Cherry High School football team. Normally, Bill Oliverio never would have bothered his friend on a Sunday during the NFL season. But having spent the previous night studying film of Fort Cherry's next opponent in the WPIAL playoffs, Oliverio knew normal was no longer part of the equation.

“We were playing Monaca,” Oliverio said of the semifinal showdown with the undefeated powerhouse facing Fort Cherry.

“They must have run, like, 30-35 offensive sets. I didn't know how we were going to defend all of it. So I called Marvin.

“He always had time for me when I was coaching. I'd call, tell him something, and he'd tell us how to defend it.”

Oliverio and Lewis have known each other for a quarter century. Their fathers, after whom each was named, met in 1970 when Marvin Sr. bought a car at Oliverio Buick in McDonald. As the story goes, the car came with instructions.

“If the mill went on strike or whatever, I told him to bring the car down if it needed work and not worry about paying until 60 days after it was over,” said “Big” Bill Oliverio.

“Now, you know, Marvin paid with his first paycheck.”

Yeah, I do know.

“Big” Bill is my grandfather. His son is my “Uncle Billy.”

That makes the Lewises of McDonald family friends, which means they're basically family.

And that has made me dread Saturday night more than anybody — except for, probably, Marvin Lewis.

Can't root against family. Ever go to work knowing family is rooting against you?

Lewis has been doing that a couple of times each of the past 13 years.

Being from McDonald — whatever, he's a Pittsburgher — has nothing to do with Marvin Lewis' 8-19 record against his hometown Steelers since taking over the Bengals in 2003.

His record, though, is the reason Saturday night is a pivotal point in his Bengals tenure. A loss would drop him to 0-7 in playoff games, 0-2 in playoff games against the Steelers.

He needs this win.

He shouldn't need it to keep his job, not when his quarterback could be AJ McCarron, and Ben Roethlisberger will be throwing the football for the Steelers.

Big Ben is a much bigger advantage for the Steelers than home field is for the Bengals.

My guess is Lewis would like his chances better if the Bengals were visiting Heinz Field. They're 6-7 there under him, including a win during the regular season.

But homecomings — at least during the NFL season — are always hard on Lewis.

Friends need tickets.

Family needs attention.

Had to be tough to concentrate during those times when his parents were treated less than hospitably by Steelers fans. Eventually, Lewis didn't want his dad, who had a bad heart, in the stands when the Bengals visited the Steelers.

(Lewis always liked it best when his parents could watch comfortably from his luxury suite in Cincinnati. His mom will take in the AFC wild-card game from there Saturday night.)

Almost two years have passed since Lewis' dad died after a long illness. Marvin Lewis Sr. was known for his work ethic. He lived a life that included serving in the Army, working three decades in the Shenango Steel mill and helping just about everybody in McDonald as the town's go-to handyman.

Oh, and he also built his family's house.

Don't you dare think that even another loss to the Steelers — a 13th defeat in 15 career games in Cincinnati — will keep his son down.

Won't change his son, either.

Lewis will still be back in McDonald for Easter and Mother's Day, escorting his mom, Vanetta, to the First Baptist Church. He'll still stop by all the places he used to know on the streets he used to roam. He'll still make himself available whenever a Fort Cherry coach needs advice.

About that, it worked some 14 years ago. Lewis told my uncle “not to concentrate on (Monaca's) formations.”

“Just follow where the ball is going,” he said.

Monaca scored six points.

Fort Cherry finished with 27.

Already, most people around here are dreaming of a “Seventh Heaven” for the six-time Super Bowl champion Steelers. And if you've never experienced a January when the Steelers are winning, you're in for a treat if this becomes your first.

But Marvin Lewis of McDonald, Pa., is 0-6 in the playoffs.

So for some of us, the good guy is going to lose either way on Saturday night.

Rob Rossi is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter@RobRossi_Trib.

 
 
 



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