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Purple Pups: Lilly Grant

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As Bud Grant walks toward the lakeshore of his Northern Wisconsin cabin property, a Labrador goes flying past him, a streak of black fur.

Lilly stops not too far ahead, however, spins a circle and looks back to make sure her owner is continuing to follow behind.

Grant smiles and bends to pick up an orange retrieving toy by its attached rope, then flings it out and over the water. The black dog bounds through the yard, clatters across the tan-colored dock and launches off its end before splashing into the crystal-clear lake.

It doesn't take her long to reach the floating toy, and she grasps it in her jaws as she swims back to the shallows. A quick shake sends a shower of water droplets in every direction. As she trots back to Grant, you'd swear she is grinning.

Grant and his longtime companion, Pat, added Lilly to the family in April. At almost 5 years old, she's full of energy but well-trained, and she accompanies Grant on his regular hunting trips.

"Lilly is extremely smart," he later explains from a recliner in the living room. "She's got very good eyes, which I can tell, and she's got a very good nose, which I can test. She's got a good instinct like a football player might have.

"She likes to hunt, and she likes to be with people," he adds. "If I let her out the door, I'm not going to have to look for her out in the woods somewhere – she'll be right here."

Dogs are like people, the Hall of Fame coach advises, which means no two are exactly alike. While he does pride himself on intuition of character, Grant also claims there's an element of good fortune in finding a pup as bright as Lilly.

"If you have a litter of eight dogs, and you have to pick one … there's going to be two that are going to be incorrigible," Grant says. "And you'll have two that are going to be good, two that are going to be very good, and two that are going to be excellent. That's just average. … They're not all created alike, so you've got to be lucky.

"That goes for dogs, football players, women. Everything," Grant adds with a wink.

The second head coach in Vikings history, Grant led the team from 1967-83 and again in 1985. He coached numerous Pro Bowlers and All-Pro players, and during his tenure, the Vikings appeared in four Super Bowls.

"I was a better football coach when I had smart players. I'm a better dog trainer when I've got a smart dog," Grant says. "I can't train a dumb dog, and I can't make a football player out of a loaf."

Dogs – and pets in general – have always been a part of Grant's life.

He grew up having pets in his family's home in Superior, Wisconsin, and throughout his adult life has housed numerous animals, from an unnamed raven to Rocco the raccoon.

But dogs have always held a special place in Grant's heart.

Years before Lilly came along were Lindy and Cork, the Labs that Grant had during his time coaching in Minnesota.

"They'd run out and take turns jumping off the end of the dock," Grant recalled. "They'd jump off the dock, come back around, look at one another and away they'd go again. People would drive by in a boat and say, 'What's going on? It must be a circus.' They just loved the water that much."

View photos of Vikings legend Bud Grant and his pup Lilly who are featured in Purple Pups.

There was Boom, the beloved canine companion that was even included next to Grant in a bobblehead created of the coach.

"It's not Boom – it's BOOM!" Grant shouts, causing me to jump. "You've gotta remember that – Boom is BOOM! … When I saw him, I could tell right away that he was a good dog."

Grant has treasured his dogs but avoided spoiling them.

The often-cantankerous coach, who famously didn't allow heaters on the sidelines of Met Stadium, looks disapprovingly at a driver who allows his dog to sit in the passenger seat of a vehicle – and don't even get him started on letting a dog into bed with you.

But bring up a pup that's been part of Grant's life, and chances are you may see those steely blue eyes begin to water.

He mentions the inevitable, that pets will be outlived by their owners.

"Cork lived to be 14 years old. That's a long time for a dog," Grant says. "It's heartbreaking when you lose them. I mean, you cry like a baby."

Asked what he's learned from owning dogs over the years, Grant pauses to ponder.

"Love."

He allows the word to hang in the summer air for a moment.

"I just go back to Boom, who I recently lost. We'd be hunting, and I'd shoot a duck, and he'd go get it and come back, and he'd sit here," Grant says, gesturing to the space beside him. "He'd put his head on my knee and look up at me and just [seem to] say, 'I love you. I love you.' He just loved what he was doing, he loved being with me.

"A dog will look at you with unbounding love. You're their whole universe," Grant adds. "That's why the world's number-one pet is a dog."

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