The first time I met Bud Grant, I never could have predicted we'd one day develop a personal friendship.
It was at one of his famed garage sales, and I drove there early and on my own in hopes of actually meeting the Vikings Legend. Being the Minnesotan I am, of course I wore a screen-printed Chad Greenway jersey and a pair of custom Vikings sneakers homemade by a friend.
View photos of Vikings head coach and Pro Football Hall of Famer Bud Grant.
Bud stood at the foot of his Bloomington driveway, announced the rules – because what's a garage sale without guidelines? – and blew his whistle like he'd done hundreds of times on the practice fields.
Dad had taught me about Bud Grant and the Vikings, and Mom had taught me all about garage sale-ing, so I was in my happy place. There was no negotiating to be done that morning, though. I picked out a camouflage jacket and one of Bud's old pocketknives, honored to have the items but even more thrilled that he agreed to snap a photo with me and autograph my shoe.
The next May, still working full-time at my alma mater but whole-heartedly pursuing a career in writing, I arranged ahead of time to spend "a few minutes" interviewing Bud at the annual sale for a blog feature.
He spoke with me for almost half an hour.
The photos from that day, with the red TaB can and Winnipeg Blue Bombers hat resting on the collapsible card table, remain among my favorites. After the interview, he looked me in the eyes and told me, quite seriously, that if I wanted to be a talented sportswriter, I must commit to never compromise my integrity for the sake of a story. That's what made Sid Hartman great, he said.
I've taken that with me every step of the way.
Fast forward to December 2015, and I'd just been hired by the Vikings. Craig Peters was showing me around TCF Bank Stadium and the press box for my first game, and as we came around the corner in the field-level concourse, we spotted Bud. Or, really, he spotted us. He walked up to me, planted a kiss right on the top of my head and said, "Hey, there she is!"
I still laugh remembering the surprised look on Craig's face as he quipped, "Well, OK, I guess you're good to go."
Following his years coaching the Vikings, during which he led the team to four Super Bowl appearances, Bud remained a consultant with the team. He'd often arrive to his Winter Park office conveniently around lunchtime, and sometimes when we needed something – a quote, reaction or historical perspective – it was suggested I approach Bud first because he tended to soften with me a bit.
At one point, someone called me "The Bud Grant Whisperer"; to this day, I'm not sure I've received a better compliment.
It was in 2016 I walked into his office for what I believed would be a brief interview and story about a single letter, written by Bud in response to a young fan in 1977. Instead, he opened a file drawer and, along with it, a glimpse into the love and respect he received, from writers of all ages across the country, during his time at the helm.
“Letters to Bud,” which involved reading and sorting through more than 250 letters to the beloved coach and stoic leader, to this day is my favorite project I've ever worked on – in large part because of the trust he showed me.
By the time I'd completed the venture, Bud had moved into his new office. The space at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center featured retro touches like wood paneling in homage to his previous space at Winter Park.
I'll never forget the kind words he shared when I handed him a bound copy of "Letters to Bud."
Over the years, my relationship with Bud became significantly less work-driven and more so an authentic connection and friendship. He would tell me stories about coaching Fran Tarkenton and Jim Marshall, and we'd talk about his beloved dogs. I especially loved when he'd talk about one of his late black Labs, Boom.
"It's not just Boom," he'd say. "It's BOOM!"
I startled every time, and he laughed every time.
View photos of Vikings legend Bud Grant and his pup Lilly who are featured in Purple Pups.
When Vikings Entertainment Network producer Christian Rangel, former photographer Travis Ellison and I went up north to Bud's cabin in July 2019, he invited me to take an ATV ride with him around the property. We later sat on his dock in the sunshine, chatting about life. I'm so grateful for that time of simply listening to him and watching how much joy the outdoors gave him.
We filmed a Purple Pups episode that day, and he teased me about how much physical affection I showed his pup Lilly.
"I bet you're the type who would let a dog sleep in your bed," he said, in that tone of his that sometimes scolded and loved simultaneously.
When I got Tater last winter, Bud was pleasantly surprised to know she was crate-trained and not sleeping in bed with me.
For Christmas one year, Bud gave me two ball-point pens in their original boxes – both deep purple with "From the Office of Bud Grant" inscribed in gold from his Winter Park days.
"Those are original, you know," he said.
View photos of Vikings Legend Bud Grant during his time with the team following his career as head coach.
But it was the card that accompanied the pens which means the most to me. He wrote, "Pat and I are watching, and we are proud of you." Those words touched my heart more than he probably ever knew.
It was tough during the pandemic to not see him and Pat, so taking him to lunch for his 93rd birthday in the spring of 2021 was such a treat. He complained about the soup he ordered the whole time, but he hugged me and held my hand and even humored me with a selfie of the three of us.
When I heard Bud had passed away, I was heartbroken. He was 95, of course; but somehow, he felt invincible to me.
There's part of me that still expects him to come rolling into the cafeteria, when he'd wave me over to the table and give me "that look" if I was taking lunch down to my desk to eat. In the days since hearing the news, so many memories – small and large – have come flooding back.
There was the time we opened the Minnesota Vikings Museum and showed Bud his exhibit, and he joked that the mannequin's build, per se, "sure makes me look fit. I don't know about all that."
How about the time he joined members of the 1969 Vikings for a 50th anniversary halftime celebration and stayed shadowed beneath the purple hood of his jacket until being announced? I still smile when I think about him pushing the hood back as he stood to be recognized, revealing subtle showmanship despite being famed for sideline stoicism.
Or the playoff game everyone remembers, when subzero temps couldn't keep him from walking to midfield in a short-sleeved polo.
You know how people always talk about Bud Grant and his steely blue eyes? He never lost that look. I noticed they glistened more with age, but those blue eyes stayed as clear and sharp as his mind.
One of the last times I saw Bud, he was presenting in December at "An Evening with Bud Grant" at the Vikings Museum. He talked for almost two hours about his time playing in the NFL, playing and coaching in Winnipeg, his time with the Vikings and more.
He explained how opting for a late flight change had prevented him from being on a plane that crashed after leaving Vancouver, Canada, in 1956. Can you imagine the Vikings without Bud Grant's impact?
Grant concluded the event by taking the time to answer questions for and take photos with attendees. He even autographed one group of superfans' minibus.
After the event, I found my way over to him. He smiled as he caught my eyes, squeezed my hand and offered what became my final hug from him.
"Hey! There she is," he said. "Love ya, honey."
Love you too, Coach. I'll miss you.
Send your own Letter to Bud
In tribute to Bud Grant and his legacy, and in continuing the "Letters to Bud" theme, we invite fans to mail in letters sharing the impact Coach Grant had on your Vikings fandom, your personal life, your childhood and so on.
Letters received may be published through Vikings content platforms in a future special edition of "Letters to Bud." We also will pass along the letters to Coach Grant's family.
If you would like to participate, please send letters to the below address.
Lindsey Young, Vikings Entertainment Network
Re: Letters to Bud
2600 Vikings Circle
Eagan, MN 55121