Pro football legend Bud Grant will be recognized by the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Allstate Insurance Company in Superior, Wis., on Wednesday, May 1, as part of "Hometown Hall of FamersTM," a national program honoring the hometown roots of the sport's greatest coaches, players, and contributors with special ceremonies and plaque dedication events in local communities. Coach Grant sat down with us to talk about the All State Hometown Heroes Program and the award he'll receive at his high school in Superior, WI on Wednesday, the Vikings, and a look back on the greatest era in Vikings history.
When I was growing up in the 1970's, the NFL was in a different time. In Minnesota, the Vikings were known as the Purple People Eaters, and they fielded one of the fiercest defenses in NFL history. Their coach was Harry P. 'Bud' Grant, and he roamed the sidelines from 1967-1983, and again in 1985.
He is the all-time winningest coach in Vikings history, and the third winningest coach in professional football history behind only Don Shula and George Halas. He won 11 NFC Central division titles in 13 years, 3 NFC championship games, 1 NFL championship game, and 4 Canadian Football League Grey Cups. He is, by every meaning and definition of the phrase, a living legend to many.
You've had so many accolades in your life and your career. What does the Hometown Heroes Award mean to you?
You go through life, and you have a lot of things happen, but when you go back to your hometown, that's where it all began. And to go back and be honored at your high school, that seems like eons ago, but interestingly, I can tell you many thing that happened in high school, and I can't remember anything that happened in many of the games I was involved in. But to go back to my high school and be recognized by All State and the Hall of Fame; it's quite an honor.
Former classmate and teammate Bob Downs will be presenting the plaque to you. What's your relationship to him?
Bob and I are 86 years old now, and when we were kids, we went to school together. We didn't have little league like the kids have today, so he'd get a team, I'd get a team, and we'd play baseball. When we get to high school, we were teammates for four years. I was a fullback and linebacker, he played defensive back, so we go back a long, long way. He's going to introduce me, and I don't know who's more honored, me or him. It's great to have Bob with us and I'm sure it will be a wonderful time.
You still have an office with the Vikings at Winter Park, and spend time there. What's your role with the team today?
Well, it's kind of deceiving to say I've got an office with the Vikings (laughs). The Vikings are very gracious in allowing me to have an office here, and it's the same one I had when I was coaching. It's not a big one, but if you've had an office your whole life, and then suddenly you're out in the street, well, that's not a good scenario (laughter).
No, they allow me to have an office, and I appreciate that. If you look around the league, I don't know that any of the other coaches (that I coached against) have an office (at their team's headquarters). I coached the team for 18 years, but I've had an office here since 1985. I get to see the coaches and players, but I do not get involved with any part of discussing personnel, strategy, or any decision making. I'm on a first name basis with everybody, but I'm not asked to do anything, which is the best job in the world (laughter).
What are your thoughts on Leslie Frazier, and what's the biggest difference a coach has to deal with in today's NFL as opposed to when you were coaching?
Everything's gotten bigger and better. We see that every year, and even the draft is prime time TV. It's changed tremendously, and the money has made a big difference. For example, Leslie (Frazier) has 22 assistant coaches, and the most I ever had was seven. I'm not quite sure what 22 assistant coaches do because I've never asked him, but they're awful busy, even with the technology. We used to have to change all the film reels by hand, and now all you do is push a button. If you want to know what Green Bay does on the left hashmark, third quarter, 10+ yards to go, you can do all of that with the push of a button. We did all of that by hand.
Having said that, they do a better job. They're better prepared, they can scrutinize other teams better, they have a better understanding of the other teams personnel and weaknesses, and it's a better game now. Frazier and his staff, they do an outstanding job, and the draft I think proves that. What Rick Spielman has done with the personnel department, it's bigger and better, so I can't complain about anything.
You were involved, at least from a public relations standpoint, in helping get a new stadium passed. One of the arguments was building an outdoor vs. indoor facility, and you coached the Vikings both outside at Met Stadium and inside at the Metrodome. Do you think the Vikings lost any mystique or advantage when they went from the Met to the Dome?
No, I don't think so. Personally, my background was playing outside. In my experiences I felt I may have some advantage in recognizing the wind, the field conditions, and the weather forecast whatever that might be. Having been brought up in that environment, I felt I might have a little edge. Wind was the biggest factor (between playing inside vs. outside)--there's a big difference in field position, and that can come in to play if you can punt 45 yards indoors or only 25 yards against the wind. So there were some things like that, and I don't know that I was any wiser than any other coach in terms of picking the right end of the field (at the coin toss), or having the wind in the fourth quarter.
But there was this mystique, though. The Rams would come up here from California and all they would do is complain about the weather! We didn't complain about it because we were used to it. So they'd spend an inordinate amount of time making sure they had the right cleats, the right jersey, the right heaters, whatever it was they had, and we spent it on football. So we might have had a little advantage there.
With today's NFL so focused on passing, would a cold weather advantage in a place like Minnesota work as well as it did back when you were coaching?
I don't really buy the cold weather advantage. If you're both playing in the same elements I can't see an advantage one way or the other. If you can throw the ball, the other team can. If you can't, he probably can't either. And our players didn't wear gloves back then, and they all do today. that makes a big difference in being able to hold on to a wet or cold football. Technology has taken over to the point where guys can throw and catch in the pouring rain now days, and football's better than it's ever been
When you left coaching for good, did you ever get the itch to get back into it, or maybe into broadcasting?
I was asked to do broadcasting, but the thing that bothered me is that if you're a broadcaster is that you've got to go to the city you're going to broadcast in on a Thursday, watch the teams practice on Friday, spend Saturday rehearsing, game Sunday, many times you can't catch a flight home until Monday, and then you get up and leave again on Thursday. That was like playing 16 away games, and after being in the business 38 years, I didn't like the idea of being away from August until January because I had other things I wanted to do. So I consciously did not get into broadcasting because of the time constraints, and after 38 years I thought I'd like to have some time off.
"They just pinned their ears back, and it changed how defense was played"
The Purple People Eaters have gone from dominant, to legendary, to now almost mythical to the generations of Vikings fans that never saw them play. What was it about that group and that era that made it so special in the eyes of so many fans, even today?
First of all, we had great players. Carl Eller is in the Hall of Fame, Alan Page is in the Hall of Fame, Jim Marshall, who played for 19 seasons, should be in the Hall of Fame--these guys were great athletes. I looked at those guys and said we don't have to blitz, we'll just rush those guys. Don't worry about the draws and screens or running game, just get the quarterback. So they just pinned their ears back, and it changed how defense was played. We could play a zone defense by just rushing those four guys, drop everyone else back to pick up the draws and screens and everything else, and they were the best at it. Most everyone does it now, but we were ahead of the curve a bit by just letting them rush and not worry about reading the running plays. Let the linebackers take care of that, you just get the quarterback.
If there was one guy you could take if you were starting a team from scratch back then, who would it have been?
Well, you gotta be very careful when answering questions like that. Any success I may have had is because of the players. There's no player that I've ever singled out as to being the very best. Now, there's special players, but that doesn't mean he was the best, or that guy was the second best. I would never do that, because it would be an injustice to all the players that I owe my success to. But there were special players--guys that made special contributions, and I would pick out a couple.
Jim Marshall would be one of them. He played 19 years, never missed a game. He was an outstanding football player and should be in the Hall of Fame. He was a leader on that team, and I love Jim Marshall. The other one would be Mick Tingelhoff, our center. He played 16 years and HE never missed a game. They were both so durable, played every game, every down. Mick Tingelhoff would be in that special category, too. He's not in the Hall of Fame, but should be. Those two players were special players to the Vikings.
In 2010 the Vikings had their 50th Anniversary Team celebration against the bears. It was outside, on Monday Night, it was snowing--you seemed visibly emotional as you were carried off the field by your former players. What kind of bond do you have with those players today? Do you still keep in touch with many of them?
Well, in those days, the players didn't make a lot of money. They made more money than the average guy, but it wasn't going to make you rich. A lot of them had off-season jobs, too, so a lot of players settled here. Now days, a player will come in and he won't stay here. He'll come in, play the season, and then go back to where they're originally from. But a lot of our players stayed here, so we built that bond. We didn't have free agency back then, so these players played for the Vikings for a long time, and now they go here for three years, then off to play for some other team, and then their agents will get them more money to play somewhere else, so they move around and it's hard to have the bond that we had, and still have. We did have a unique experience here, but of course, being successful also helps.
What are you doing these days?
Well, I've got six children, 19 grandchildren, 8 great-granchildren, and they all live within 20 minutes of my office right here (at Winter Park in Eden Prairie). I got a place in Wisconsin, and I like to fish and hunt. I just came back from turkey hunting, and I find myself overbooked, is what I'm saying (laughter).
Thanks to Bud Grant, All State, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I've done some pretty cool things since I've been fortunate enough to be a writer on this site, but this won't be topped. To say this was an honor and a lifelong dream come true would be an understatement. I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did--Ted