Bud Grant, the legendary football coach, passed away on March 11 at the age of 95. I admit to having been a hard-core Vikings fan in the Grant years. I would never have thought that one day I’d be sitting with him in a prairie wheat field postulating about ducks and life.
Most people who watched Grant on the sidelines took him to be a stern taskmaster, a tough guy, but he wasn’t either of those personas to those who knew him. Yes, he was somewhat quiet, a no-nonsense type, but only in the sense that he was extremely practical.
Bud loved to hunt waterfowl.
My hunting partner Boris Popov somehow knew Bud and invited him to come along with us on a North Dakota goose hunt one year. Big flocks of the small cackling Canadas were in the area, and the limit was two geese at that time.
On the first morning, a large flock of cacklers attacked the decoys and the four of us doubled after the birds tried to land in our laps. We were counting birds when we noticed Bud with a ninth bird under his arm. “She caught it live,” Bud said, looking at his female black Lab with a smile. He tossed the bird in the air to fly away. “Catch and release!”
That night, a Monday, coincidentally, a Vikings versus Chicago Bears game was broadcast on Monday Night Football. What a privilege it was going to be watching the game with the storied coach; or so I thought. Assembled in front of the television at the little house we rented, we watched the entire game without Bud saying more than a few words. I do remember one thing that he said. “Guys, it’s a stage, not a stadium.”
On a freelance hunt with Bud along, he and I drew field duty one afternoon. With few birds flying and plenty of time to talk, Bud told me of the day of the great Armistice Day blizzard that killed 85 duck hunters. Bud had been duck hunting alone that morning in the hinterlands of Wisconsin when the snowstorm struck in all its fury. He was just 12 years old. Wet, nearly frozen and unable to find his way in the whiteout, he stumbled across a railroad grade. He said his decision to follow it through the snow for what seemed like miles saved his life. It eventually led him to a home that took him in.
On a South Dakota spring snow goose hunt, we stopped by a Hutterite colony to ask to hunt their land. I drove in with my truck while Bud and others chose to stay in their trucks out on the county road. Referred to the leader of the colony, he asked me if we were the guys who were seen at the town café with Bud Grant (small world!). When I confirmed, he said we could only have permission if Bud came in to meet his men.
I thought Bud would complain, but surprisingly, out from under his truck seat came his folder of Bud Grant photos, his signing pen and the Bud Grant “show” was on! He put on an engaging meeting with his fans, and they loved him. RIP Bud!
Below: (l to r) Bill Buckley, Jay Strangis, Darrel Brandt, Boris Popov, Bud Grant