On this date in 1995, Buffalo Bills head coach Marv Levy underwent prostate cancer surgery at Roswell Park Institute in Buffalo. Running backs coach Elijah Pitts stepped in during Levy's absence.
Levy was in his tenth year coaching the Bills when the 70-year-old found out he had cancer. Luckily, he caught the disease in time, and the operation was a complete success. Levy missed three games for the surgery and recovery. Levy is still going strong 15 years later.
Pitts was a running back for the Green Bay Packers from 1961-1969 (and again in 1971), and scored two touchdowns in the first AFL-NFL Championship game, the inaugural Super Bowl. His greatest value early in his career was as a special teams contributor. He rushed for 1,684 yards and scored 210 points in 10 seasons with Green Bay, and was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1979.
Pitts joined the Bills in 1978 as an assistant coach under Chuck Knox, whom he had coached with while Knox was head coach of the Los Angeles Rams. Pitts left Buffalo after the 1980 season, but returned in 1985. He survived all the turmoil in the mid-'80s, and Levy kept him on staff when he became head coach in 1986.
In the Bills draft room in 1988, Pitts was the voice leading the charge to select Thurman Thomas. Pitts finished his coaching career with the Bills, and coached Thomas, Kenneth Davis, Darick Holmes, Antowain Smith and the rest of the Bills' running backs to success.
The Bills went 1-2 during Levy's absence, but rebounded from missing the playoffs in 1994 to finish 10-6 and earn another AFC East title. They lost to Pittsburgh in the Divisional round after beating AFC East foe Miami in the Wild Card round.
Unfortunately, cancer was not done changing Pitts' life. In October of 1997, he found out he was ill with stomach cancer. On July 10, 1998, at the age of 60, Elijah Pitts died as a result of the deadly ailment.