Bud Grant was known to occasionally pop into a town cafe to sit and chat with the locals while enjoying a doughnut and a morning cup of coffee, as retired people often do.
Only, Grant often had a secret motive: He was in search of information.
Before he got up to leave, Grant would be sure to ask the locals, “Where’s the best place to go hunting?”
“Invariably, if you were conversant and civil, they would say, ‘Well, farmer Brown has a good duck slew,’ ” or pheasants, deer or whatever else he may be in search of at that given time of year. Grant said. “And that’s where you’d get a lot of your information.”
Grant doesn’t need to make those stops as often anymore. He’s never been one to hunt on commercial farms, but he’s established enough tried and true hunting spots over the years that he’s got more than enough options, particularly for the upcoming duck season.
Where are those spots, specifically?
“There’s a secret,” Grant said. “You go where the ducks are.”
Grant chuckled when asked this week how he was doing at age 92.
“I’m doing fine,” the Bloomington resident said. “I’m 92 years old and I’m living in the same house and doing the same things I’ve been doing for the last 70 years.”
Besides the football, of course. The former coach, who led the Vikings to its only NFL championship and four Super Bowl appearances, has been out of the game since he retired for the second time after the 1985 season. Not once did he consider coming out of retirement a second time.
From his basketball playing days with the Minneapolis Lakers to his football career with the Philadelphia Eagles and Winnipeg Blue Bombers, all followed by his illustrious coaching career, Grant noted he spent “a lifetime in sports.”
“That’s all I’ve ever done,” he said. “I’ve never made a nickel doing anything else.”
Grant had an obligation to support his six children. He had six college tuitions he needed to pay. But when his youngest son, Dan, graduated from St. John’s, and all of his kids had educations and were off on their own, “then that’s when I retired.”
He’s still around from time to time. He has an office at the Vikings’ practice facility in Eagan, where he spent about four hours on Monday. He doesn’t have official hours, but he has things he can do and people he can see. Grant said the Vikings have been “very gracious” to him over the years; he appreciates having a place to go.
The commute got a little longer for Grant with the Vikings’ move from Eden Prairie to Eagan, but that doesn’t bother him.
“Driving to work is something to do,” he joked.
He still pays attention to football, which he said is “getting better all the time, just like everything.” Grant still watches games, noting there were “two pretty good games (Monday) night.”
“I do watch football,” he said, “except if the fish are biting or the ducks were flying, I probably wouldn’t be.”
Grant is of the belief that you don’t retire from something, but to it. There has to be life after football. For him, that has consisted primarily of two things — his family, and the outdoors.
Nature is one of the coaching icon’s true loves. His two favorite months of the year are April — when birds return and flowers begin to bloom — and October, the heart of the fall harvest. There’s a reason Grant usually keeps his hunting groups small — he’s not anti-social, he just prefers to focus on the beauty in front of him.
There are various seasons for hunting, and Grant partakes in most of them. He’s also an avid fisherman, calling himself “an expert at nothing, but I do a lot of things.”
Whenever he’s walking around the outdoors or driving down the road, hunting is on his mind. If he sees a flock of ducks or spots a deer, he makes a mental note. Grant thinks retirees need to continue to stay both physically and mentally active. For Grant, hunting is a year-round sport that keeps him in the game at all times.
“Scouting, preparation, anticipation, that’s all part of it,” he said. “Pulling the trigger is a lot of times the end of your hunting.”
He hesitates to even call what he does these days “hunting.” It used to be more of a physical activity, as he would walk through swamps or marshes in pursuit of his prey. That’s no longer the case.
“Unfortunately, my legs aren’t as good as they used to be,” said Grant, who noted he can’t jump as high as he used to.
But while his body isn’t what it used to be, his mind and eyes remain as sharp as ever. Now, he simply hunts the things that come to him, whether that be a turkey responding to his call or a deer walking within range of his blind.
“I can hunt, if that’s the right word … if you wait for something to come to you,” he said.
Regardless of what you call it, Grant still enjoys the sport and everything that comes with it.
“Hunting is only an excuse,” he said, “to be outdoors with your family, with your friends, with your dog, and to observe nature and enjoy all the aspects of that.”
Ask Grant how he has managed to maintain his good health this late into life, and he’s already got a one-liner holstered at his hip.
“Heredity,” he said. “You’ve got to pick the right parents.”
And, perhaps, the right children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Grant counts more than 30 grandchildren and north of a dozen great grandchildren.
The enthusiasm of young people, he said, “is contagious.” He’s noticed that as he’s helped introduce many of them to outdoor sports, but also as he’s watched them establish their own paths and interests in life.
Grant doesn’t get to each of everyone’s activities. With as many family members as he has, being at everything would be an impossible task. He also doesn’t want to be a grandpa or great grandpa who lives vicariously through his family members, hollering at officials or offering instruction at sporting events.
“The kids have got to be kids and they’ve got to enjoy playing,” he said, “and I’m not going to critique them or try to coach them.”
Still, he has attended plenty of games, pageants and musicals. And when family gathers, Grant enjoys talking to the young ones about their activities and what’s important to them in that given week.
“I’m enjoying them and I’m living in their world and I’m thinking in a younger vein,” he said.
His family has kept him young, and it has helped him endure. Grant has dealt with great loss in the latter stages of his life. He has past photos of organizations he used to be involved in, and can point to many now-deceased friends.
And, in the past decade, the loss has struck far closer to home. His wife of 60 years, Pat, died in 2009 from Parkinson’s disease, and his son, Bruce, died from brain cancer last year at age 57.
Nearly all of Grant’s family still lives in the area, most within an hour of his home; his kids didn’t want to get too far away from their mother, he said. So there were plenty of people to lean on during some of the hardest times.
Grant learned how to lose during his time in pro sports. He’s not equating a football defeat to losing loved ones, but he’s always known you can’t hang onto something so long that it starts to affect your mental and physical health.
“Depression is a very real, real thing. A lot of people suffer from depression or periods of depression when times like that happen, when you lose your wife, your mother, your father, your kids or your friends,” Grant said. “You’ve got to learn how to get over those things eventually. I don’t mean it’s got to be a day or a week or a month or a year, but eventually you’ve got to overcome that, or you’ll suffer.”
Grant focuses on the now. He cherishes the time he spends with loved ones. He calls his girlfriend, Pat Smith, “a godsend.” The two live together, and Grant said his family has adopted Smith, just as she has adopted it.
“It makes life great,” Grant said.
The two of them, Grant said, take care of one another.
Between Smith, enjoying watching his children’s families continue to grow and evolve and spending time with Mother Nature, Grant admitted “life is good at this point.” He can still drive his own car, bait his own hook and shoot his own birds. He has a summer home in northern Wisconsin and hunting trips in various parts of Canada and the U.S. on the docket for the near future.
Grant jokes the main thing is he’s “still upright, before quickly noting that could change tomorrow, as there are no guarantees at his age.
But, for now, Minnesota’s living legend is still living the life he wants to live, if only at a slightly slower pace.
“I’ve been lucky,” Grant said. “I can’t put it any other way.”