John Myers column: My brush with Bud Grant infamy
I worked with (well, for) the former Minnesota Vikings coach 40 years ago.
DULUTH — Bud Grant, the Superior native and legendary former Minnesota Vikings football coach who lost four Super Bowls, but who everyone in Minnesota loved despite that, died last week. He was 95.
I got to meet him. Actually, I got to work with him (well, for him) for a month or so back in (OK, this will date me) summer 1983.
I had just graduated from college and was content spending my summer rebuilding an old wooden boat and partying like I didn’t have a care in the world (I didn’t). But my buddy, Chuck, had a serious internship gig with the Vikings public relations department and they needed a little extra muscle to help out during training camp and the preseason games.
Why not, I thought? I could use the beer money. And I might get to meet Bud Grant, who almost every Minnesota kid worshiped but especially me because Grant was an avid hunter and fisherman, especially duck hunting, which happens to be my favorite thing in the whole wide world.
I envisioned late-night sessions, maybe playing poker with Grant and Jerry Burns and Tommy Kramer, listening to the story of how Grant once got fined by the NFL for being late to a Vikings game because he stayed out duck hunting too long on a Sunday morning. (True story.)
So I took the job, picked up a big white conversion van with a giant Vikings emblem on it and drove it down to Mankato, Minnesota, where the Vikings held their preseason training camp and where it was 99 degrees with 99% humidity every day for a month.
But that's OK because while the players and coaches and my buddy Chuck were outside sweating, I was in an air-conditioned office answering calls from the media in the Twin Cities, sipping a brand-new kind of soda pop called Diet Coke and doing odd jobs. Sometimes really odd jobs. Like driving defensive lineman Curtis “Boo Boo” Rouse to the local livestock feed store to get weighed.
Curtis was a very big boy, 336 pounds as I recall, and the scale in the football locker room at Mankato State College (now Minnesota State University) only went up to 300 pounds. So Bud Grant ordered me — we got pretty close, I called him “yes, sir, coach” and he called me “hey, you” — to take Rouse down to the local feed store to get an accurate measurement. For some reason, 336 sticks in my mind, but it’s been 40 years so I may be off. But not by much.
Later that day, at the evening press conference, when Grant held court in a lounge in a dormitory, a reporter asked Grant about the feed store incident. Grant just smiled his wry smile. I think it was all part of some sort of PR scheme that I wasn’t informed of. And Grant said, “let’s just say he weighed in at more than 300 pounds down at the feed store.” But I knew exactly how much Boo Boo Rouse weighed, because I was there, so of course I blurted it out: “336 pounds."
A hush fell over the room. Reporters were busy writing down 336 pounds in their notebooks. But all I remember is the sound of Bud Grant staring at me (he had piercing eyes). It turns out, looks can indeed kill because I died a little bit right then.
After the press conference, one of the public relations officials came up to me and said that under no circumstances was I to say another word at a Bud Grant press conference ever again. In fact, under no circumstances should I even attend another Bud Grant press conference ever again.
Well, live and learn, I say.
Grant apparently forgave and forgot because it was just a few days later when he summoned me over near the practice field.
“Hey, you, I need to get JT up to the hospital in Minneapolis,” Grant said, and then walked away.
JT was John Turner, a Vikings defensive back, who had some sort of injury that apparently ultimately kept him out of the Hall of Fame. And it was my duty to chauffeur him in the Viking van (with air conditioning) for the hour-plus ride up to see the team doctor.
“Make sure he gets checked in OK,” the PR director told me as we drove off. And I did, accompanying Mr. Turner to the front desk and helping him with his admission papers.
“What’s your profession?” the nurse asked.
“D-back,’’ JT responded.
The nurse just stared at him.
“Professional football player,” I added, only because Mr. Grant wasn’t around.
JT was eventually admitted and I drove back to Mankato, but, unfortunately, I missed the usual evening meal of lobster and steak and hot fudge sundaes.
But still, I was in awe that Bud Grant trusted me to drive his top D-back to the Cities in a time of need. How cool is that?
A few days later, I was walking out to the practice field in the morning when Grant was talking to some children lined up along the fence. He often took time to do that. Then, as he walked to the field, he turned to me.
“Hey, you, you work for Merrill (Swanson, then Vikings PR director), right? Get me some balls and shirts and stuff to give to those kids later,” Grant said.
Of course, I got the balls and shirts and some other Vikings bling. You just didn't say "no" to Bud Grant.
I had other critically important duties with the football club, too, like sounding the Viking horn during a preseason game against John Elway and the Denver Broncos. I was supposed to push the button on every first down, every Vikings score and every turnover that went the Vikings' way. I might have gotten a little carried away and pushed the button too soon sometimes, but the crowd in the Hubert Horatio Humphrey Metrodome loved it, and Bud Grant never mentioned it.
So, rest in peace, coach. I hope you get a great duck blind in heaven. And thanks for those exciting Super Bowl runs and your guys all lined up perfect for the national anthem and, especially, those moments when we bonded at training camp.
To this day, whenever I hear anyone say, “hey, you,” I still get chills.