Before the coming of Minnesota Viking football, the land was a colder and darker place.
From late October to early May, over a huge area of the upper Midwest, there stretched a mighty sheet of snow and ice covering perhaps a tenth of the entire continental United States. Minnesota lay in the epicenter of this gigantic cold area. The volume of snow sometimes achieved the stupendous: reaching roof tops over 30 feet high.
On desolate, dark Sundays most people would throw another log on the fire and scurry back to bed to sleep under a bundle of blankets and comforters. There was no particular reason to get up.
That was a colder, darker Minnesota, some decades before the coming of the Vikings.
That Minnesota was a quieter place in the winter, too. Over the ice, snow, and tundra, there reigned a silence that seemed to have no end. True, there were terrible winds, huge blizzards that howled across the land. True, in the arctic-like conditions there were sparse forms of life, small groups of hardy animals which eked out a bleak existence in the freezing wastes, but to all intents the Sunday landscape was empty.
Such was the time before Viking football. Such was the time before a man arrived who embraced the winter. And his story is this.
Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin. The Twin Ports. Harry Peter "Bud" Grant, Jr. was born there on May 20, 1927.
He was the first born of Harry Peter Sr. and Bernice Grant. A sister followed Bud, but died at birth. Two brothers were born, Jim and Jack, but Bud was the oldest by seven years, a gap too great for much sharing. "I baby-sat my brothers a lot, but we were never really close", Grant said. Then why the name "Bud?" "My mother didn't care for the confusion of having two Harrys under the same roof. She took to calling me Buddy Boy. As I grew, the name got shorter."
Bud started in baseball, with an old glove that his father had given him, and a young athlete was launched. Although in Minnesota, you are never sure winter is over until the beginning of summer which resulted in short baseball seasons. However, Bud actually spent most of his time playing football and basketball. Grant's coaching abilities developed during this time because in the area where he grew up, there were no school teams. So by the seventh grade, Bud was organizing football games between neighborhoods. He called the kids from other schools, made the arrangements, and even did the lineups.
Coaching wasn't the only thing that made Bud different than the other kids; he had great feelings and respect for the outdoors. The lack of the same feelings among his friends meant that Grant often spent days alone. "Saturdays and Sundays, I would break down my .22, stow it in my newspaper sack, and ride the bus to the end of the line. I'd hunt rabbits all day long. Every once in a while, I'd have a friend along, but more often, I was by myself. My buddies were more interested in girls and in working on old cars."
In Grant's freshmen year, his high school basketball team, the Central High Vikings, were doing well and even advanced in the tournament. They lost, but returned home with a celebration. Soon there after, Bud became ill and his hair began turning gray. He endured the illness and recuperated and continued to advance through his childhood and schoolboy athletics with distinction, although he still had a limp that lasted from the affects of polio, which he had contracted as a small boy. He won conference and regional honors for his play in basketball and football. His American Legion baseball career was noteworthy also; between his junior and senior years, he was named to Esquire magazine's East-West high school all-star game and played in Comisky Park, Chicago. He lost the limp after high school. By the end of Bud's senior year, he had gained the attention of college scouts from Iowa, Minnesota, Northwestern, and Wisconsin.
After Grant's college career with football and basketball, it was time to turn pro. He first signed with the NBA Lakers, then based in Minnesota. But that year, 1950, Bud was the 12th player selected in the NFL draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. He chose to delay his NFL career to play for the Lakers because they were local and offered him a raise to stay for the 1950-1951 season and he even declined his invitation to the play in the College All-Star game. Not because the Lakers were requiring his attention, but rather, he married his wife, Pat, on that day.
After his second season with the Lakers, Bud knew his career was not in basketball and called the Eagles. They were still interested but were tough on him by making him stay in training camp during the birth of his first child and failed to notify him by more than thirty-six hours after receiving a telegram of the news. Bud played with them nonetheless to honor his contract and lead the team in QB sacks his first year. In his second year, he moved from defense to offense and became the starting receiver and then led the team in receptions. When the Eagles refused to pay him what he thought he was worth (which was more than the veterans), Grant left and contacted Winnipeg of the CFL because they had showed interest in him while college. In doing so, Bud had become the first player in the NFL to "play out his option" and leave for another team.
When Bud started with Winnipeg, he was a starter as a receiver on offense and as a halfback on defense and did so for four years and set many team and CFL records in the process. The board of directors had noticed Grant and his abilities to make needed changes on the offense and defense while he was a player. So, on January 30, 1956, Winnipeg offered him the head coaching position and Grant accepted. Ironically, Bud's father died that same evening in California. Over the next five years, Grant led the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to four Grey Cup Championships, the equivalent of the American Super Bowl, over the Hamilton Tiger Cats. Over the course of his 10 year career in Canada as coach, Grant's teams posted an impressive 105 wins, 53 losses, and 2 ties.
When Max Winter created the Minnesota Vikings in 1961, he had told Grant that he was his man and that he wanted him to coach the Vikings. After considering his options with his wife, Grant decided to stay in Winnipeg. But in 1967, the history of the Vikings changed forever. General Manager Jim Finks and owner Max Winter had made the decision to get Grant to coach the Vikings, whatever it took. In his first year, Grant and Finks bolstered the team with new talent that would be forever linked to the team. Bobby Bryant, Bob Grim, Gene Washington, and the unforgettable Alan Page joined Jim Marshall, Mick Tingelhoff, Gary Larsen, Dave Osborne, Fred Cox, Carl Eller, Roy Winston, and Ed Sharockman. He also brought in Joe Kapp from the Canadian league.
Getting new talent wasn't Grant's biggest problem. Changing the team's mindset from Van Brocklin's to his was. It was a great contrast and Bud's system was simpler, but sturdier. It concentrated on eliminating dumb mental mistakes in practice and the games, no smoking, no booze, and to respect the American flag. Yes, Grant held national anthem practices to make the team proud of who they were and to show their patriotism, because by showing how good you look and your pride for your country, the opposition will respect you whether they want to or not. Carl Eller, nicknamed "Moose," had the responsibility of teaching the team how to stand at attention during the entire anthem, to sing the anthem, and to respect the flag because he was a big National Guardsman and enthusiastic to do it. Grant required it because it was a form of discipline.
Another form of discipline was making the team practice outdoors and play games in the cold weather without the benefit of heaters on the sideline. By doing so, he let the players know that no matter what happens, they will be cold and they had better get used to it. Standing on the sideline in bitterly cold weather motivated a player to get on the field and play his heart out because a win will make the cold more bearable, and knowing that no heat was available, the players wouldn't be thinking of it during the game. This made them concentrate more on the matters at hand.
Grant's changes took the Vikings to a 3-8-3 record his first year, but four of those losses were by six points or less. For the second year, Grant and Finks added more talent that would become Viking anchors: Ron Yary, Charlie West, Dave Osborne, Wally Hilgenberg, Gary Cuozzo, and Paul Krause. This combination along with the players Grant already had resulted in the team's Divisional Championship and first playoff game in his second year as a coach, then to the Super Bowl the following year. How did Grant get the team to do so well so quickly? On top of what has already been said, Grant let his assistant coaches teach and let the players play. He only interjected when he saw something that upset him. He didn't ride the player's everyday or punish them harshly for mistakes, but he let them be themselves within his rules. He managed the team and the game, not the abilities or the personalities.
The 1969 to '71 seasons left the Vikings with 35 wins and 7 losses, but no playoff victories. Grant and Finks went back to the drawing board and realized one thing; Fran Tarkenton had to come back. 1972 turned out to be an average year, but with the new pieces together for a second year, the Vikings exploded in 1973 and dominated opponents through 1978 winning 6 divisional championships and 3 conference titles; appearing in three Super Bowls, and compiling a 62-22-2 record during the process. The addition of Chuck Foreman put the final piece of Grant's plan into place. The rest, you could say, is history.
When asked why he always remained so calm during games, Grant simply replied
"A player once said that he and his mate had watched me from a distance during
a close game. He said that as they looked at me, I didn't seem upset. So they
figured that they didn't need to be upset either. That stuck with me. If my
remaining calm could influence players, then it had value." Jan Stenerud commented
on Bud's ability by saying, "He has so much common sense. Most of us have common
sense the next day
After pondering his future with his wife Pat, Bud Grant had decided that he wanted other things from life at the conclusion of the 1985 season, shocking the Vikings organization and fans. Grant explained "... Nothing had changed ... the same things that were important to me when I left after the 1983 season were still there. I'm 58 years old; I've been in professional sports for 36 of those years. I decided it was time to enjoy the fruits of those years." After a week's effort to convince Grant otherwise, the decision was final and Grant announced his second and final retirement on December 28, 1985. He left as the eighth most winning coach in NFL history with a record of 161-99-5. In the process, he lead the Vikings to four Super Bowls, captured 11 division titles, 1 NFL Championship, and 3 Conference Championships.
This article was comprised of text excerpted from Bud: The Other Side of the Glacier.
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