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Dignified, steely coach Bud Grant always had a life outside of football

Dennis Anderson, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Outdoors

"I'd meet the train at 5 in the morning on Sundays and buy the papers I thought I could sell," Grant said. "The town whorehouse was on my route, and I'd knock on that door, and the women would say, 'Buddy Boy is here!' and sometimes they'd invite me in for hot chocolate and cookies. They'd usually tip me, too. If they were having a good night, I might get a quarter."

Stricken with polio as a boy, Grant strengthened his legs catching passes and shooting baskets. Always big for his age, he was a prep football, basketball and baseball star, and coaches in Madison figured someday he'd suit up for the Badgers.

Grant's dad was athletic, too, and toiled in his spare time for the Duluth Eskimos, an early NFL club. But where Harry Sr. was voluble, a hail fellow well met, his son was more reserved. Whenever he could, young Harry would catch a lift with his dad to the edge of town or, absent that, ride a bus. There, no matter the weather -- the worse the better, for Grant -- he'd hike for hours, ambushing grouse and rabbits with a .22, before returning home with his quarry in a newspaper carrier's bag.

Grant didn't join the Badgers after high school. He joined the Navy.

Future Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Paul Brown led the Naval Station Great Lakes gridiron team then, and Grant played both offense and defense for the Bluejackets, as he did later for the Gophers, Eagles and Blue Bombers.

"I learned from watching Paul Brown how to make a team out of individual players," Grant says. "We played Notre Dame and all the big schools. But we weren't college kids. We were in the military, with military rules, and one day Brown pointed to four of our players and said, 'You disregarded the rules about drinking. Now I want you and you and you and you to get as far away from me as you can, as fast as you can.'

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"The next day, those players were shipped out to the war. That got the team's attention."

When Pro Football Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton retired from the Vikings after playing under Grant from 1972 to 1978, he held every major NFL quarterback record.

Tarkenton still thinks about Grant every day.

"I've never met a more interesting person," Tarkenton said. "Bud brought dignity to the Vikings. He didn't raise his voice. He didn't yell. But if he said something, you listened. Because it made sense."

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