By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
At Wednesday’s Hometown Hall of Famers program honoring Bud Grant, a few members of the audience smiled brighter than the rest.
They sat in the front row and beamed as Grant talked about his formative years in Superior. They nodded at his description of rationing during World War II and grinned when he mentioned harness racing at the fairgrounds.
But the highlight for the Superior Central High School alumni came even before Grant spoke his first word. The highlight was when he slipped off his Hall of Fame jacket and pulled on his purple letterman’s sweater from Superior Central.
“I’ve kept it all those years, and I’ve kept it in pretty good shape,” Grant said. “It kind of fit too. Not totally, but it kind of fit.”
Grant graduated from Superior Central High School in 1945. He earned his letterman’s sweater in 1941 and was a standout athlete for the Superior Central Vikings before eventually earning a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as coach of the Minnesota Vikings.
“That made my whole day when he put that (sweater) on,” said Curt Christianson, who graduated from Superior Central in 1944 and played basketball with Grant.
For graduates of Superior Central High School, Bud Grant is one of their own.
“I’ve always thought of him as a gentleman,” said Betty Wilkinson, who graduated from Superior Central in 1948.
She remembers approaching Grant during his senior year and asking him to sign her yearbook.
Like many freshmen, Wilkinson stood in awe of Grant. He was a three-sport athlete for the Superior Central Vikings and earned all-state recognition in football and basketball.
“And he was so tall and good looking,” Wilkinson said.
Grant knew Wilkinson’s father, Joseph “Jersey Joe” Goldfine, but Wilkinson was too shy to introduce herself when Grant signed her yearbook.
On Wednesday, after 68 years, Wilkinson shook Grant’s hand and talked to him about her father.
“He remembered him,” Wilkinson said. “His face just lit up when I told him I was ‘Jersey’ Goldfine’s daughter.”
Grant was born May 20, 1927 in Superior to Harry and Bernice Grant. He said his family moved about four times in Superior, but the first home he remembers was on North 3rd Street.
“The buildings are not there now,” Grant said. “We lived in this old ramshackle house down there around the railroad tracks and along the waterfront. I remember the big storm sewer that came down through that area.”
Right by the railroad tracks, the storm sewer emptied into the bay — “It was storm water, not sewer water,” Grant said. The culvert was about 6 feet high, and at various places along the line workers could enter the system for maintenance.
The local children had another use for the storm sewer. It was a source of fun.
“We used to go there with hockey sticks and kill the rats in that storm sewer,” Grant said. “That was one of our recreations. We’d send one guy to one end and one guy at the other end, and they’d sit there with hockey sticks until the rats came by. I wish I could say we killed a lot, but I don’t know that we killed very many.”
Superior was a different place then, Grant said. Warm days were spent outside playing baseball, and cold days were spent waiting for the weather to change. Every boy old enough to hold a bat knew the rules of baseball.
“We played baseball behind the Pattison School in those days,” said Frank Neuman, a 1945 graduate of Superior Central. Any time the sun was shining, someone would organize a sandlot game.
In the winter, sports moved indoors, and basketball was the game of choice.
“We had some good teams,” said Len Ward, who also graduated with Grant in 1945. “I think we won the Twin Ports championship a few years. Bud was our mainstay.”
“I was lucky to be a substitute guard,” Neuman said. “I could sit on the bench and watch all these games all my career. I had a good seat.”
Basketball games were community events in Superior. The gym filled to capacity every night.
“The game was at 8 p.m. and it was filled at 6:30 p.m.,” Ward said. “We had tremendous competition with East and Cathedral.”
In 1942, when both Ward and Grant were freshmen, Superior East was the team to beat.
East had made the state tournament in both 1940 and 1941, advancing to the semifinals in 1941.
Ward called the 1942 East squad a “dream team,” but the Central Vikings shocked their rivals in the playoffs and earned a trip to Madison for the first time since 1937.
“That’s the furthest out of town I’d ever been,” Grant said.
The Vikings won their first round game and quarterfinal game in Madison before falling to Marinette in the semifinals, 27-24.
Superior Central would not make another trip to state until 1952, but the Vikings remained competitive for the next three years with Grant leading the way.
“Bud was a very private, polite guy,” Christianson said. “He was the captain of our team and when we’d have a timeout during the game, he’d say, ‘Well, we’re ahead.’”
Some captains would let the position go to their heads, Christianson said. They would criticize and tell teammates what to do, but that was never Grant’s way.
“He was a real nice guy, a real gentleman,” Christianson said.