EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. –Between them, two of the greatest football minds in Minnesota share 82 years of coaching experience and 775 wins.
Hall of Fame Vikings Head Coach Bud Grant and former St. John's University Head Coach John Gagliardi, now 88 and 89 years old, respectively, are renowned. Grant led the Vikings to an overall regular-season record of 158-96-5 and four Super Bowls during his 18-season tenure. Gagliardi stands as the winningest coach in college football history. He coached the Johnnies to an incredible 465 wins over 60 seasons after starting his career with four seasons at Carroll College in Montana.
Grant's son, Eden Prairie Athletic Director Mike Grant, played for St. John's under Gagliardi and helped lead the team to a National Championship in 1976.
Grant and Gagliardi came together last week to support a cause they believe in.
The longtime friends were featured speakers at "An Evening with Minnesota Sports Legends." The benefit was held at St. Andrew's Lutheran Church (Eden Prairie) and raised money for Project Friendship, a program launched by Mike Grant and Krystal Queen, a single mother whom Mike and his wife, Connie, supported while Queen was working full-time and also attending school to finish her degree.
The relationship between Mike's family and Queen and her three sons developed, and they decided to create a larger-scale program to help other single parents in similar situations. Officially launched during St. Andrew's church services on Feb. 8, 2015, Project Friendship seeks to build bridges between single-parent families and other families in the south and southwest suburbs.
"It's really two-sided for me," Mike said. "It's raising money for something that I think is really important. Also, these are the two most influential men in my life – in the late stages of their life – and here they are together. That's what makes it such a special night."
The evening kicked off with a social hour, during which guests could casually visit with Grant and Gagliardi as well as bid on a number of silent auction items, including helmets signed by both coaches, gift cards and baskets donated by local businesses and team-related memorabilia such as a Teddy Bridgewater-signed football.
As Queen observed the room's energy and excitement, she said it seemed like her dreams were coming true right in front of her.
"This event and Project Friendship has really [helped] to spread awareness to people who don't really know what it's like to be a single parent," Queen said. "It just brings awareness and helps people see that really small acts of kindness can help in a huge way. […] We want people to know that they can do things to help, and it doesn't have to be monetary. We hope to build more bridges in the community so there are more resources."
WCCO's Mike Max emceed the panel discussion between Grant and Gagliardi, but the two coaches were also each given special introductions. United States Senator Amy Klobuchar introduced Grant via video. Klobuchar, whose father was a long-standing sports columnist for the Star Tribune, shared warm – and humorous – memories of growing up during the Grant era. She recalled answering one of Grant's phone calls to her home when she was 9 years old.
"It was actually quite terrifying," Klobuchar said, laughing. "But that's how I got to know Bud Grant."
Gagliardi's introduction was given by current White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, who played safety for the Johnnies during the 1988-1992 seasons.
View images from Bud Grant and former St. John's coach John Gagliardi's "An Evening with Minnesota Sports Legends" to benefit Project Friendship, a program to support single parents.
The evening recognized the 40th anniversary of St. John's 1976 National Championship as well as the 1976 NFC Championship game between the L.A. Rams and the Vikings.
After defeating the Packers to win their eighth division title in nine years, the Vikings went on to defeat the Rams in the NFC Championship game on Dec. 26, 1976. Vikings running back Chuck Foreman ran for 118 yards and a touchdown, and cornerback Bobby Bryant intercepted Rams quarterback Pat Haden twice en route to the 24-13 victory that sent Minnesota to its fourth Super Bowl in franchise history.
Although both coaches have aged outwardly, with grayed hair and slowed gaits, one can't help but picture them back pacing the sidelines when they talk about the sport they love so much.
"If you could go back and do your whole career over again, would you do anything differently?" Max asked Gagliardi.
Gagliardi didn't skip a beat before answering, "Yes. I would have liked to win a few more."
The respect Grant and Gagliardi have for one another is undeniable.
"Listening to Bud tonight – I've always been so impressed with him," Gagliardi said during the discussion. "He was sharp as a tack then, and he's the same way right now. It's an absolute pleasure to know him.
"It's really special to share the stage with Bud," Gagliardi added later. "He's really a great speaker. I had forgotten how good he was."
Grant expressed similar sentiments.
"This guy, right here, is one of the greatest coaches in America," Grant said of Gagliardi, emotion heavy in his voice. "This is amazing that he's done this."
As highly as Grant and Gagliardi think of each other, they also think highly of Project Friendship and the support it's giving families.
"I'm really proud of Mike and what he's done," Gagliardi said. "He's a great coach and a great person. This program that he's running is quite a charity, and [he's doing] such a great job."
Attendees were able to hear the testimony of two families who have both directly benefited from getting paired up through Project Friendship, and they challenged others to consider taking part.
A live auction to wrap up the event raised $2,400 in addition to the silent auction efforts and featured items like Twins tickets and a lunch for four with Grant himself.
"My son's a compassionate guy, and he and Krystal have put together this program that's going to help a lot of single parents," Grant said. "I'm always happy to help in that area. I think we raised some money and got the word out, and the program's going to continue to grow."