Reusse: Celebrating Bud Grant: No smoke(ing), no mirrors, just a singular legend
The first time the Vikings honored Bud Grant for his exceptional work as their head coach was on Sept. 2, 1984, in Year 3 of playing in the Metrodome.
Grant was an energetic 57 years old on that day, and it had been a shock to all Minnesotans in late January, when Sid Hartman had delivered the news in the Star Tribune that Bud was retiring after 17 seasons as the Vikings coach.
On that first Sunday of the '84 season, Grant was joined for the ceremony by his family and a number of Vikings, with Jim Marshall and Matt Blair being the most noteworthy.
As Grant was offering his remarks and the crowd announced at 57,276 was preparing for a final ovation, Bud concluded with his immortal words: "I just want to say thank you for not smoking.''
Vince Lombardi: "Defeat is worse than death, because you have to live with defeat.''
Bud (underlying message): "If you smoke you will kill yourself, and worse yet, you might kill me.''
As it turned out, the events on the Metrodome turf that Sunday would have considerable impact on the security Grant would enjoy in his eventual retirement.
This was Les Steckel's head coaching debut. San Diego's Air Coryell came in and lit up the Vikings for 526 yards and a 42-13 victory.
Come season's end, the Vikings were 3-13, local football fans were still in a lather over Gophers coach Lou Holtz in spite of a 4-7 debut, and Mike Lynn started lobbying Grant to return and replace Steckel.
Which is what happened. Lynn gave Grant a 10-year contract to either coach or consult. Bud coached only the 1985 season (7-9), then remained in a Winter Park office as his longtime assistant Jerry Burns became the head coach.
There was no public sendoff for Bud that time — in fact, the scoop on his yet-unannounced departure in December 1985 came not from longtime friend Sid, but from a mysterious character titled "Dark Star'' in a phone call to a local sports radio show known for breaking news on Monday nights.
Grant stayed a relevant figure to the local media and sporting public for almost four decades after coaching his last game — one reason being, obviously, there have been no other Super Bowls to distract us since those four played in the '70s.
Whether it was the outdoor life or sports in general, you only had to look at an old photo of that wondrous, steely gaze at Met Stadium to say: "I wonder what Bud thinks about this?''
The news of Grant's death on that Saturday morning, March 11, came as a surprise blow, even though he was 95. And now, at noon Sunday, there will be another sendoff for Bud from the Vikings — a celebration of his life that carries a title that's 100% valid:
"Bud Grant — He Did It His Way.''
The public was asked to claim tickets for this event at U.S. Bank Stadium. Tears are not necessary. He still was the most comfortable in his skin and logical person you could meet.
Bob Hagan, long in charge of Vikings media relations before a recent reassignment, was at Grant's cabin in Gordon, Wis., a few months ago with a video photographer for a three-hour interview that figures to live in the team's archives.
"I stayed overnight there and we were just talking,'' Hagan said. "I asked Bud, 'What's the best day you've ever had, anytime?' He thought for a few seconds and said:
" 'Today. I'm sitting here, it's a nice day, I look out and see the lake, I'm here with people I enjoy, I'm 95 and I feel pretty good. So, it's today.' "
Pause. "Who else would say that?'' Hagan said. "We'd all look back. But Bud … you enjoy what you have. You don't live just on memories.''
Dennis Ryan, recently retired as Vikings equipment manager and an employee for 47 years, was asked last week for some Bud moments. We talked for a while and then he called back with this:
"We went to London to play a regular-season game last fall. It was our fourth or fifth trip over there. The Vikings have a team of sports scientists now … and they went to work on a schedule that would give the players the optimum for adjustment to long travel, a much different time zone, sleep, everything we should be doing at a certain time to be ready as possible physically for the game.''
"The first time we went to London was for an exhibition game in 1983,'' Ryan said. "And the schedule our sports science team came up with was exactly the same as Bud sketched out in '83, just using his common sense.''
Common sense = logic = Bud Grant.
And that includes not smoking.