EAGAN, Minn. – When Bud Grant was drafted 14th overall in the 1950 NFL Draft, it was columnist Sid Hartman who broke the news to him.
Nearly seven decades later, the two – now self-identifying as best friends – each announced one of the Vikings 2019 draft picks.
“When I was drafted from the University of Minnesota, I went to the Eagles and didn’t even know until the next day,” Grant said. “The Giants had called me and said they were gonna draft me, and I said, ‘Well, fine.’ Then I never heard anything. Then the next day it was, ‘Oh, I see you got drafted by the Eagles.’ Things have changed.
“I was at the University, of course, and I didn’t have a phone. There were no cell phones, and I lived in an old fraternity house,” Grant added. “They couldn’t have gotten ahold of me if they wanted to. It wasn’t as big of a deal then.”
Hartman, who began writing for the Star Tribune in 1945 and continues to produce a column at 99 years old, confirmed the anecdote.
“Yeah, I called him and told him he was drafted by the Eagles. The Eagles didn’t call him until [later the next day],” Hartman said. “In fact, I knew the general manager of the Eagles, a guy named Vince McNally. That’s a true story.”
The pair of Vikings Legends were joined by Eden Prairie youth football players, four Minnesota Vikings Cheerleaders and members of the Vikings SKOL Line.
Jeannie Palmer, whose son Brady is part of the youth program, explained that the players – and their parents – were unaware that Grant would be the one announcing the pick.
“This is huge,” Palmer said. “Everyone got goosebumps when they announced it in the lobby. It was a welcoming surprise for everyone.”
She added that all of the young people are quite familiar with the Grant family because Grant’s son Mike is the Eden Prairie varsity football coach and also has a presence at youth games from time to time.
“Every kid in Eden Prairie knows who Mike Grant is and, through that, every kid in Eden Prairie knows who Bud Grant is,” Palmer said. “For us to come here and … see Bud Grant, that made it a million times more special.”
Grant and Hartman reflected over the ways the NFL Draft has changed and evolved over the years, particularly in the number of people involved and the entertainment draw for the fans.
Hartman recalled covering the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, of whom Grant was the head coach, in the 1962 CFL Grey Cup and then traveling from Toronto to Chicago to cover the NFL Draft.
“When the game was over, I took a train to Chicago,” Hartman said.
He tapped his index finger on the gray card table near him.
“They just had tables like this, people sitting at the table, three or four guys making the picks,” Hartman said.
Grant went on to coach for the Vikings from 1967-83 and again in 1985 and has served as a team consultant since.
The legendary coach has participated in Vikings drafts for 52 years, some of them being more memorable than others.
There’s his first in 1967, when General Manager Jim Finks was recovering from gallbladder surgery and unable to leave the hospital. So, he and his staff made selections from the room.
Vikings legendary Head Coach Bud Grant and legendary sports writer Sid Hartman made a pair of the Vikings day 3 draft picks from the Minnesota Vikings musuem on Saturday.
“There’s not much room in a hospital room. They had a couple of extra phones, so at least we could still talk to people,” Grant said with a chuckle.
There was the 1977 NFL Draft, when a lot of discussion surrounded drafting Tommy Kramer 27th overall.
“We already had [Fran] Tarkenton. But Tommy was a great quarterback, too,” Grant said.
That same year, Minnesota drafted Illinois standout Scott Studwell. As it turns out, Grant was the linebacker’s biggest advocate.
“We went down the list and I’d say, ‘What about this Studwell?’ And well, he wasn’t big enough. And then, ‘What about this Studwell?’ in the next round – ‘Well, he’s not fast enough’ – and go down to the next round, and I said, ‘What about this Studwell?’ And they said, ‘Well, he doesn’t have good hands,’ ” Grant recalled of conversations with scouts. “I said, ‘Yeah, but he makes all these tackles. So what’s the matter with him?’ ‘Well, he’s not fast enough, not good enough, doesn’t have good hands, blah, blah, blah.’ But I said, ‘Yeah, but the tackles. How many games has he missed?’ ‘None.’
“They kept giving me all these excuses, and then when [the ninth round] came around, I said, ‘I don’t care what names you have on your board. We’re drafting Studwell,’ ” Grant said. “And that’s how Studwell got here. I had never seen him on film, but I read that he made all these tackles, he played every game, and he never got hurt. He came here and did the same thing here.”
Studwell went on to play 14 seasons in Purple and joined the Vikings scouting department in 1991. After 42 total teams with Minnesota, Studwell announced his impending retirement just this past week.
“I’m the reason he’s here,” Grant said. “He ‘wasn’t big enough, wasn’t fast enough, he didn’t have good hands’ – but he had all the tackles, and he was durable. That’s the key word – durable. He played every down, and that’s how he played every tackle. You can’t tackle if you don’t play. So that’s how we got Studwell.”
So what do Grant and Hartman think about the Vikings 2019 draft picks?
Both have been in the business long enough that they refrained from giving an opinion at this point.
“There’s a story behind every player, but there’s no guarantee,” Grant said. “Not every draft choice turns out the way you want it. That’s why [Vikings General Manager Rick] Spielman does a good job of accumulating enough draft choices, so that … you have a better chance of getting players that are going to be productive.”
Hartman said he doesn’t “have any idea yet” how the 2019 Vikings draft will grade out.
“You don’t know how good the pick is until they’ve played,” he said.