Bud Grant, 1st person elected to Hall of Fame in CFL and NFL, dies at 95

Bud Grant, the stoic and demanding Hall of Fame coach who won four Gray Cups during his 10 years in the CFL with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and led the Minnesota Vikings to four Super Bowls, died Saturday. It was 95.

The Vikings announced Grant’s death via social media.

“We are absolutely devastated to announce that legendary Minnesota Vikings coach and Hall of Famer Bud Grant passed away this morning at the age of 95,” the post said. “We, like all Vikings and NFL fans, are shocked and saddened by this terrible news.”

Wearing his trademark purple Vikings hat and a stone-faced demeanor, Grant’s steely gaze became synonymous with his teams. He was a mainstay among the coaches of his era, a decorated group that included Don Shula, Tom Landry, Chuck Noll, John Madden and Hank Stram. Grant, however, had little interest in distinction.

“The only reason I can see for a coach to take credit for something good is that he gets so much blame when something is bad,” Grant once said. “The whole secret, I think, is not to react to either the good or the bad.”

He coached the Vikings from 1967-85, with one year off in 1984, en route to a 158-96-5 record with 11 division championships in 18 seasons. He went 10-12 in the playoffs. When he retired, Grant was eighth on the NFL’s all-time wins list.

An avid outdoorsman who spent many off-seasons fishing in Alaska or on hunting expeditions in Arizona, Grant was also a successful coach in the Canadian Football League who became the first person elected to the Hall of Fame in both the CFL and NFL.

As a player, Grant was second in the NFL with 56 receptions and 997 yards in 1952 before a contract dispute led him to Winnipeg.

After starring as a two-way player for the Blue Bombers, he once had five interceptions in a playoff game, became their coach and led them to six Gray Cup appearances, winning the title in 1958, 1959, 1961 and 1962. Grant won 102 games as a CFL coach.

Assembled Porphyrophages

That drew interest from the Vikings, who lured him back across the border in 1967. With stars such as Fran Tarkenton, Carl Eller, Alan Page, Paul Krause and Ron Yary — all Pro Football Hall of Famers — the Grant led the Vikings to 10 Central Division crowns in 11 seasons.

After replacing another Hall of Famer, Norm Van Brocklin, Grant assembled the venerable defensive line dubbed the Purple People Eaters. The line — whose motto was “Meet at the quarterback” — joined a potent offense that helped Minnesota reach the 1970 Super Bowl, the last edition of the big game before the AFL-NFL merger.

The heavily favored Vikings fell 23-7 in Kansas City, setting the tone for the infamous streak of title game losses to Miami, Pittsburgh and Oakland from what was considered a lesser conference after the 1973, 1974 and 1976 seasons.

“If you’re going to succeed, survival is probably a better word,” Grant said during his 1994 Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speech in Canton, Ohio. “You have to deal with losing. You die every time you lose, but you have to get over it.”

Harry Peter Grant Jr. was born on May 20, 1927 in Superior, Wisc. and was nicknamed Bud by his mother. He overcame a bout with polio as a child and became a three-sport star in high school.

He learned early about the coaching business after being drafted in 1945 and playing for a team at Great Lakes Naval Station outside Chicago managed by Paul Brown, who would go on to a Hall of Fame career as an NFL coach, executive and owner.

From there, Grant played football, basketball and baseball at the University of Minnesota, a nine-time letterman who was recruited by both the NBA and NFL. He followed basketball first, playing two seasons for the Minneapolis Lakers and winning a title with them in 1950. But it was football where Grant really excelled, first for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Disciplined to the core and insisting on intense mental focus, Grant went so far as to have his players practice standing at attention during the national anthem. He infamously took the Vikings outdoors in the freezing winter for practices and banned heaters during games at Metropolitan Stadium.

On January 10, 2016, when the Vikings hosted the coldest game in franchise history in the first round of the playoffs against Seattle at the university’s outdoor stadium while their building was under construction, Grant served as honorary captain. He strolled through the pre-game coin toss in a Vikings hat and purple short-sleeve polo shirt, looking ready for a round of golf despite minus-21.1C temperatures and minus-32 windchill.

Ambassador to the Minnesota community

Grant retired after the 1983 season, replaced by Les Steckel, whose fiery approach contrasted with his calm predecessor and went 3-13. Grant returned for one season, going 7-9, before longtime offensive coordinator Jerry Burns was promoted to the top job.

Although Grant was done coaching by then, his influence on the team and his city remained. Grant continued to live in the same suburban home he bought upon his arrival in 1967, in Bloomington less than 10 miles from Metropolitan Stadium. He became somewhat of an ambassador for the Vikings in the community, at times lending his voice to the lobbying effort to replace the Metrodome, where the team played from 1982-2013.

He took hunting and fishing trips with friends and family as often as possible. On a particularly harrowing hunting visit to Canada in 2015, Grant’s pilot safely touched down a twin-engine plane after the landing gear and instrument panel failed.

Grant also showed more of his softer side. During the university’s return to campus football at TCF Bank Stadium in 2009, the Gophers named him and eight other former players honorary captains. His face trembled and his eyes watered as fans cheered his name in the pre-match ceremony.

There were also Grant’s famous garage sales, where he would sign autographs for those who bought at least $25 worth of his items, including memorabilia from his playing and coaching days and even used outdoor gear. For the 2017 quarter, personalized bobbleheads of his likeness were available for purchase.

Grant sat on a chair outside his home signing autographs for a steady stream of fans, some of whom came from overseas to look at the old coach’s stuff.

The Vikings kept a spacious office for him in their suburban headquarters, continuing to list him as a consultant on all team rosters. Whenever a new coach or executive was hired, Grant was usually one of the first people the Vikings made sure to introduce.

When he turned 95 on May 20, 2022, the team held a Zoom call for him and several of his former players. Jim Marshall led the group in the mock “Happy Birthday” singalong.

He is survived by his partner, Pat Smith, six children, 19 grandchildren and, as of 2021, 13 great-grandchildren. His wife of 59 years, Pat, died in 2009. A son, Mike Grant, built a football program at Eden Prairie High School, a 15-minute drive from his father’s home, winning 11 state championships in a 22-year span from 1996 -2017.

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