MINNEAPOLIS — Bud Grant, the stoic and stern Hall of Fame coach who led the Minnesota Vikings and Purple People Eaters defense to four Super Bowls in eight years and lost them all, died Saturday.
He was 95 years old.
The Vikings announced Grant’s death on social media.
“We are absolutely devastated to announce that legendary Minnesota Vikings coach and Hall of Famer Bud Grant passed away this morning at the age of 95,” the post said. “We, like all Vikings and NFL fans, are shocked and saddened by this terrible news.”
Wearing his trademark purple Vikings hat and stony-faced demeanor, Grant’s steely sideline gaze became synonymous with his teams.
He was a mainstay among the coaches of his era, a decorated group that included Don Shula, Tom Landry, Chuck Noll, John Madden and Hank Stram.
Grant, however, had little interest in confessions.
“The only reason I see a coach getting credit for something good is because he gets so much blame when something bad happens,” Grant once said. “The whole secret, I think, is not to react to either the good or the bad.”
Bud Grant died at the age of 95. Getty Images
He led the Vikings from 1967-85, with a one-year layoff in 1984, en route to a 158-96-5 record with 11 division championships in 18 seasons.
He went 10-12 in the playoffs. At the time of his retirement, Grant was eighth on the NFL’s all-time wins list.
After replacing another Hall of Famer, Norm Van Brocklin, Grant assembled a defense line called the Purple People Eaters.
The line — whose motto was “Meet the quarterback at” — was joined by a potent offense that helped Minnesota reach the Super Bowl in 1970, the last edition of the big game before the AFL-NFL merger.
The heavily favored Vikings fell to Kansas City 23-7, snapping a string of infamous title game losses to Miami, Pittsburgh and Oakland after the 1973, 1974 and 1976 seasons.
We are absolutely devastated to learn that legendary Minnesota Vikings coach and Hall of Famer Bud Grant passed away this morning at the age of 95.
We, like all Vikings and NFL fans, are shocked and saddened by this terrible news. pic.twitter.com/z2NNlNAY44
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) March 11, 2023
“If you’re going to succeed, maybe survival is a better word,” Grant said in his 1994 Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speech in Canton, Ohio. “You have to deal with losing. Every time you lose, you die, but you have to overcome it.’
An avid outdoorsman who spent the off-season on fishing trips in Alaska or hunting expeditions in Arizona, Grant was a successful coach in the Canadian Football League, becoming the first person elected to the CFL and NFL Hall of Fame.
He won four league championships in his ten years in Canada.
Harry Peter Grant Jr. He was born on May 20, 1927 in Superior, Wisconsin, and was nicknamed Bud by his mother.
He overcame a childhood bout with polio and became a three-sport high school star.
Bud Grant was a mainstay of the legendary coaches of his time. Getty Images
He learned early about the coaching business after enlisting in 1945, playing for a team at the Great Lakes seaside resort outside Chicago under Paul Brown, who would go on to a Hall of Fame career as an NFL coach, executive and owner.
From there, Grant played football, basketball and baseball at the University of Minnesota, where he was drafted nine times by the NBA and NFL.
He started basketball first, playing two seasons with the Minneapolis Lakers and winning a title with them in 1950.
But it was football where Grant really excelled, first for the Philadelphia Eagles.
He was second in the NFL with 56 receptions and 997 yards in 1952 before a contract dispute led him to Winnipeg in the CFL.
After playing as a two-way player for the Blue Bombers, once having five interceptions in a playoff game, he became their coach and led them to six Gray Cup appearances — winning the title in 1958, 1959, 1961 and 1962.
Grant won 102 games as a CFL head coach.
Bud Grant was known for his steely demeanor. Getty Images
This piqued the interest of the Vikings, who were drawn over the border in 1967.
With stars like Fran Tarkenton, Carl Eller, Alan Page, Paul Krause and Ron Yary – all Pro Football Hall of Famers – Grant led the Vikings to 10 Central Division crowns in 11 seasons.
Disciplined to the core and insisting on strict mental focus, Grant went so far as to have his players practice standing attention during the national anthem.
During cold winters, he moved the Vikings outdoors for practices and banned sideline heaters during games at Metropolitan Stadium.
On January 10, 2016, when the Vikings hosted the coldest game in franchise history in the first round of the playoffs against Seattle while their building was under construction at the university’s outdoor stadium, Grant served as honorary captain.
He went to the pregame coin flip in a Vikings hat and purple short-sleeve polo shirt, ready for a round of golf against a wind chill of minus 6 degrees Fahrenheit and minus 25 temperatures.
Grant retired after the 1983 season, replaced by Les Steckel, whose fiery approach was the opposite of his predecessor’s calm one, and he went 3-13.
Grant returned for one season, going 7-9, before longtime offensive coordinator Jerry Burns was promoted to the top job.
Although Grant was done with coaching, his impact on his team and the city remained.
Grant continued to live in the suburban home he bought when he arrived in 1967 in Bloomington, less than 10 miles from Metropolitan Stadium.
Bud Grant made four Super Bowl appearances with the Vikings. Getty Images
He became something of an ambassador for the Vikings in the community, sometimes lending his voice to lobbying efforts to represent the Metrodome, where the team played from 1982-2013.
He went on hunting and fishing trips with friends and family as much as possible.
On a particularly harrowing hunting visit to Canada in 2015, Grant’s pilot crashed a twin-engine plane after the landing gear and controls failed.
Grant also showed his softer side.
When he returned to football on the university’s campus at TCF Bank Stadium in 2009, the Gophers named him and eight other former players honorary captains.
His face was flushed and his eyes welled up as fans cheered his name during the pre-game ceremony.
There were also Grant’s famous garage sales, where he signed autographs for those who bought at least $25 of his items, including memorabilia from his playing and coaching days and outdoor gear.
For the three-day event in 2017, bobblehead dolls of her likeness are available for purchase.
Grant sat on a bench outside his home and signed a steady line of admirers, some who came from overseas to peruse the old coach’s belongings.
The Vikings maintained a spacious office in their suburban headquarters, continuing to be listed as a consultant in every team directory.
Whenever a new coach or executive was hired, Grant was usually one of the first people the Vikings introduced.
On his 95th birthday on May 20, 2022, the team hosted a Zoom call for him and his former players. Jim Marshall led the band in singing “Happy Birthday”.
He is survived by his partner, Pat Smith, six children, 19 grandchildren and, as of 2021, 13 great-grandchildren.
His wife of 59 years, Pat, died in 2009. One son, Mike Grant, built a football program at Eden Prairie High School, a 15-minute drive from his father’s home, that won 11 state championships over a 22-year span. 1996-2017.