erik lundegaard


Saturday March 11, 2023

Bud Grant (1927-2023)

Is there a more Minnesota moment than 88-year-old Bud Grant trotting out for the coin toss in the 2016 playoff game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Minnesota Vikings? It was Jan. 10, outdoors in Minneapolis, so the gametime temperature was -6 degrees. And Bud was out there wearing a short-sleeved shirt.

Again: It was minus six degrees.

Bud Grant's 1970s Minnesota Vikings were famous for not showing off. They didn’t spike the ball, didn’t touchdown dance, and their coach on the sidelines never betrayed an emotion. But an octogenarian trotting out in a golf shirt for the third-coldest playoff game in NFL history? Yeah, that’s how Minnesotans show off. It’s not “Hold my beer,” it’s “Hold my jacket.”

As a kid, I thought Bud Grant was ancient, but, like Sparky Anderson, he was simply prematurely gray. He was in his early 40s when I began watching the team in 1971. Everything about him was steel: His hair, his eyes, his demeanor. Although according to the obits, he didn’t coach that way. He was not a martinet. He didn’t yell, he didn’t get into faces, he didn’t show players up. If he had thoughts to give it was mano-a-mano rather than a dressing down in front of the entire team. He believed in guiding but not dictating. He let the players find their path.

“We loved to play for Bud because he knew when to work us hard, but let us have fun at the same time,” Paul Krause told The New York Times in 1990.

This is an odd transition because it’s about a martinet. When I was a kid I remember reading a story about a baseball player for the New York Giants who was told by manager John McGraw to bunt but the guy saw a pitch he liked and swung away—and hit a game-winning homerun. His reward? Fined $50 for not following orders. Fran Tarkenton tells a similar story about Bud Grant here: Charlie West catching a punt on the 4-yard line—a no-no—and going 95 yards for a touchdown and the game. While the place is going crazy, Bud Grant quietly let him know: “Charlie, if you ever do that again, you’ll never play another down for the Minnesota Vikings.” What I like about that? There was no fine. And it wasn’t because West disobeyed a command. It was because he did something fundamentally unsound. And Bud told him so quietly.

He was a bit like Clint Eastwood, wasn’t he? Not just the stoic stare but the way he coached. Let’s be professional, let’s have fun, let’s be done by 5 PM.

He was also a helluva athlete. He played two seasons of professional basketball (Mpls. Lakers), two seasons of professional football (Philadelphia Eages), then something like 10 season of professional football in Canada, before coaching there, and then being coaxed back to the States to coach a moribund NFL franchise in Minnesota. Three years later, they were in the Super Bowl. They went to the Super Bowl three more times on his watch.

Yeah, yeah, I know: 0-4. It’s in the subhed of the Times obit: “…although he lost each time.” Classy, NYT.

He also played baseball. My father says that Bud once said he made more money playing town ball around Minnesota than he did for those two seasons with the Lakers.

Bud retired from coaching in ’83, came back for the ’85 season, finished with a 158-96-5 record. He was elected to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1983 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994.

Seriously, who was more Minnesotan? When he wasn’t hanging out in shirtsleeves in -6 weather, he was sitting in a duck blind in the snow, or out on a lake, fishing. Godspeed. Raise a glass. Skol.

Posted at 05:30 PM on Saturday March 11, 2023 in category Sports