Bud Grant, legendary Vikings coach and Superior athletic standout, dies at age 95
The Vikings announced the news Saturday morning.
Bud Grant, a legendary Superior athlete in his own right before becoming the stoic face of the Minnesota Vikings, if not the entire state, for a generation, died on Saturday, March 11, at the age of 95.
The Vikings announced Grant's death on Saturday morning.
To the wider sports world, Grant, who was born Harry Peter Grant, Jr., on May 20, 1927 in Superior, is remembered as the coach who led Minnesota's nascent National Football League franchise out of infancy and into prominence. He took over the club in 1967, and by his second season the Vikings had won the NFL's Central Division title, dethroning the Green Bay Packers and starting a run that included 11 division titles in 13 seasons.
We are absolutely devastated to announce legendary Minnesota Vikings head coach and Hall of Famer Bud Grant has passed away this morning at age 95.— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) March 11, 2023
We, like all Vikings and NFL fans, are shocked and saddened by this terrible news. pic.twitter.com/z2NNlNAY44
The Vikings reached Super Bowls VI, VIII, IX and XI, losing each one, but Grant was no stranger to success. As a young coach of the Canadian Football League's Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Grant's teams won the Grey Cup as CFL champions four times in a five-year span from 1958-62.
In all those assignments, Grant became famous for his steely blue-eyed gaze and for his refusal to allow his Vikings teams to mitigate the chill of a Minnesota winter with sideline heating devices. Grant reprised this famous stance when, at a 2016 Wild Card playoff game at the Vikings' temporary outdoor home at the University of Minnesota with a game-time temperature of minus-6 degrees, he came out to conduct the pregame coin toss in shirt sleeves.
“No single individual more defined the Minnesota Vikings than Bud Grant. A once-in-a-lifetime man, Bud will forever be synonymous with success, toughness, the North and the Vikings. In short, he was the Vikings. Words can never truly describe Bud’s impact on this franchise and this community. His commitment to the Vikings never wavered as he was a mainstay in our facility, spending time with coaches and staff in his office on a regular basis. We cherished the times we had together, listening to his tremendous stories and soaking up his knowledge of the game. Most importantly, we are thankful we were able to get to know Bud on a personal level and see first-hand his love for his family. We join members of the Vikings organization, the generations of players Bud impacted, the people of Minnesota and the entire NFL in mourning this monumental loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with Bud’s family and friends in this difficult time,” said Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf in a statement released on Saturday.
Before all that, Grant took up athletics to recover from contracting polio as a boy and became a three-sport athlete for the Superior Central Vikings who earned all-state honors in football and basketball. He went on to the University of Minnesota and earned nine varsity letters in three sports.
Despite his myriad accomplishments across professional sports, Grant retained ties to his hometown and the people he grew up with.
Back in 2013, then-Superior activities director Ray Kosey was organizing an event honoring high schools with alumni in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The “Hometown Hall Of Famers Program” gave former Minnesota Vikings head coach Bud Grant a chance to present his high school with a plaque acknowledging Superior’s three members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Kosey had heard that Grant was extremely private and not very friendly, so he wasn’t sure how the Vikings’ icon would respond to his invitation.
“He just blew my impression of him in a totally different direction,” Kosey said. “He came in, welcomed everyone — he was actually the last one to leave the event. He signed every autograph, he took every picture, he even had a little kid sitting on his lap. Anybody that wanted to talk, get an autograph, he allowed that and, to me, it was pretty good to see how he welcomed everybody in Superior when he came back.”
Grant enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1945. While assigned to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Illinois, he played on a base football team coached by another Pro Football Hall of Famer, Paul Brown.
He was a first-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles in 1950 but held off on football to play two seasons with the NBA's Minneapolis Lakers. Once he did return to the gridiron, he played defensive end for a season and then became one of the NFL's top receivers, accumulating nearly 1,000 receiving yards in the 1952 season, before opting for a better deal closer to home in the CFL, where he once intercepted five passes in one game before becoming a head coach at age 29.
He was elected to the CFL Hall of Fame in 1983 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994.
“I am so saddened by today’s news. Before joining the Vikings I had long known the legacy of Bud Grant, the Minnesota icon who carried himself with class and integrity. From afar, I admired his impact on the Vikings franchise and the NFL. And then I got here and Bud was one of the first people to warmly greet me when I walked through the doors of this facility. I didn’t realize at the time I would be so blessed to build a close friendship with him over the next year. Bud was gracious with his time, meeting in his office weekly to discuss football and life. I will forever cherish those conversations because they made me a better coach, a better husband and father and a better person. It is an honor to lead the same organization he once did, and there is no question Bud’s positive influence will have a lasting impact on me moving forward. My heart goes out to Pat and Bud’s family during this difficult time,” current Vikings coach Kevin O'Connell said in a statement released by the team on Saturday.
Grant was already famous for his short-sleeved Vikings polo shirts on the sidelines — no matter the temperature — when Harry Kitts came to Bloomington Lincoln High School as a math teacher and coach in 1970.
Peter, Grant’s oldest son, was just starting to play football at Bloomington Lincoln for the B-squad. Kitts, a longtime official who has worked with the Minnesota State High School League for more than 40 years, remembered a scheduled Thursday night game was moved to a Monday.
“It was a Vikings day off and it is looking like it’s going to pour at the stadium,” Kitts said. “I humorously say there were four people in the stands — maybe there was 10 — but it was a sparse crowd and in that crowd was Bud Grant to see his son play.”
Kitts remembered another moment at the Bloomington Lincoln homecoming breakfast when son Grant’s son Mike was playing.
“Everybody was excited Bud Grant was there and the president of the quarterback club said, ‘Coach Grant, would you get up and say a few words about the Vikings in the coming week,’” Kitts said. “Bud stood up and said, ‘No, this game is about our kids playing a homecoming game this week, let’s leave it at that.’ That impressed the heck out of me.”
Grant left the sideline after the 1983 season and then for good in 1985. In his retirement, Grant continued to serve as a consultant to the team when he wasn't duck hunting or staging annual garage sales of memorabilia.
Pat Grant, Bud's wife, died in 2009. He is survived by two daughters and three sons. A fourth son, Bruce, himself a standout quarterback at the University of Minnesota Duluth in the early 1980's, died of cancer in 2018. Grant had 20 grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren.
Tom Hansen, a teacher in the University of Wisconsin-Superior journalism program, said his experiences with Grant reminded him that there are no “shortcuts” in sports or in life.
“His character and what he stood for is something I’ll always admire,” Hansen said. “There’s a right way and wrong way and there was never the shortcut way. It was you had to do it the right way and treat people well as you’re doing that.”
This story was updated at 4:02 p.m. on March 11 with quotes and anecdotes. It was originally posted at 12:20 p.m.