Vikings coach Bud Grant remembered at memorial service

Published 7:19 am Monday, May 22, 2023

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By Estelle Timar-Wilcox, Minnesota Public Radio News

The Minnesota Vikings and fans celebrated the life of Bud Grant with a memorial service Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium. The legendary former Vikings coach passed away on March 11 at the age of 95.

Family, former players and friends spoke of Grant’s love for his family, for football and for the state of Minnesota.

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“People felt he was just a common man,” said Grant’s son, Mike Grant. “Dad loved being a representative of the Upper Midwest, especially Minnesota. I know you loved him as we did.”

Grant was the Vikings head coach from 1967-1983 and in 1985. He led the team to Super Bowls IV, VIII, IX, and XI, losing all four.

He kept up his presence with the team throughout his retirement. He still had an office at the team’s headquarters in Eagan and met weekly with current Vikings Head Coach Kevin O’Connell. At the memorial, O’Connell called Grant a role model.

“I like to pride myself on trying to attempt to have that sort of authenticity, that sort of humility every day, leading an organization like Bud Grant did at the highest of levels for so long,” O’Connell said.

As a coach, Grant had a reputation for his stoicism. Several people recounted his tough attitude towards the Minnesota winters: he never had heaters on the sidelines at his games, preferring to get his players used to playing in the cold.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., recounted her memories of answering the phone when Grant would call to talk to her father, the late sports journalist Jim Klobuchar.

“Win or lose, he would have his cool,” Klobuchar said. “And that didn’t mean he wouldn’t talk to the players about things that had to be done differently, but it was that image, and that leadership… that I think transcended football.”

Klobuchar presented Mike Grant with a Senate document honoring his father.

Many of his friends remember him for his commitment not just to football, but also to his life off the field. Mike Grant said that his father was a stickler for the family’s no-football-talk-at-dinner rule.

He was an avid hunter and outdoorsman — even when the pressure was on in his coaching career. Grant’s friend Ron Schara recounted a story of going out hunting with Grant the day before a big playoff game.

“I said, ‘Bud, you know what? Most of the Minnesota people right now are very uptight because you’re going to play the Cleveland Browns tomorrow in a championship game.’ We’re all thinking Bud Grant’s probably in his office trying to figure out one more trick play.

“He said, ‘Ron, if I don’t have it figured out by now, I never will.’”

Former Vikings player Fran Tarkenton says he’ll always see Grant as a mentor.

“In all my life I never had a coach like him. He never raised his voice to me or any of our teammates, but he knew how to lead,” Tarkenton said. “If you can’t play for Bud Grant, you can’t play.”