Dane Mizutani: Legendary Vikings coach Bud Grant was so much more than that for Minnesotans
Never once did Bud Grant stray from the person he was at his core, and that authenticity is why so many people showed up Sunday when the Vikings hosted a celebration of his life.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Mike Grant joked that his late dad, the legendary Bud Grant, would have scolded the thousands of fans who showed up at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Frankly, if the longtime Minnesota Vikings coach was still here, an indoor football field is about the last place he would have been on a beautiful spring day in Minnesota.
Maybe he would have been hunting for ducks up in International Falls. Maybe he would have been fishing for walleye in Brainerd. Maybe he would have been preparing for his annual garage sale in Bloomington.
Never once did Bud Grant stray from the person he was at his core, and that authenticity is why so many people showed up Sunday when the Vikings hosted a celebration of his life inside a football palace that never would have been possible without the father of the franchise.
The biggest thing that drew people to Bud Grant throughout his life was that he was so much more than a football coach for the Vikings. He was a man of the people, as Mike Grant pointed out in the opening minutes of a poignant speech that captivated everyone in attendance. He told a story about how he remembers his dad having breakfast last year at the Old Homestead Cafe in Henning.
“He chatted with many of the locals as if he was an old friend,” Mike Grant said. “I think in many ways, to everyone, he really was an old friend.”
Indeed. The sobering somberness that gobsmacked the state a couple of months ago when Bud Grant died at the age of 95 was replaced by lots of laughs on Sunday as people remembered the man who became synonymous with the Vikings, then Minnesota as a whole.
The kid who grew up shooting scurrying rats at the local dump in Superior, Wis., in the early 1930s, and learned to pitch by throwing rocks at nearby telephone poles, went on to become the greatest coach the Vikings have ever had.
There was something special about the way Bud Grant conducted himself. He was stoic by nature yet always made whoever he was talking to feel like the most important person in the world. He never yelled at his players yet always got the most out of them. As former star quarterback Fran Tarkenton so succinctly put it, “If you can’t play for Bud Grant, you can’t play.”
There were so many memorable moments at Sunday’s celebration of life, from former star defensive end Carl Eller talking about how Bud Grant somehow got his players to embrace the cold weather, to U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar presenting the family a framed Congressional Record honoring Bud Grant for his leadership.
The cherry on top of the latter exchange came when Mike Grant, without missing a beat, joked, “My dad would’ve looked at this and said, ‘How much could I get at the garage sale for it?’ ”
As everyone shared their memories on stage, perhaps the most impactful came from current coach Kevin O’Connell. It’s not lost on him that he has a lot to live up to now that he holds the position that Bud Grant championed. They had a weekly lunch at TCO Performance Center with O’Connell trying to soak up as much wisdom as humanly possible.
“His willingness to share anything with me was such a blessing, and I’m so thankful to him for doing that,” O’Connell said. “I’m going to miss that more than anything.”
He added a short story about how after he and his wife Leah welcomed their new daughter Callie into the world last year, Bud Grant gifted the family a stuffed animal to give to her.
“When I went to get her out of her bed this morning she was squeezing onto that duck in her crib,” O’Connell said. “That made me think of him.”
As the celebration of life slowly wrapped up Sunday, former star linebacker Scott Studwell noted that the first thing that came to mind a couple of months ago when the news broke was, “Bud Grant is not supposed to die; Bud Grant is supposed to live forever.”
He will in the hearts of every Minnesotan was lucky enough to call him an old friend.
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