Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Time to honour Bud Grant with stadium statue

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I know it seems like the last thing that should be on the agenda of a fumbling, bumbling football disorganization -- where anyone could get the boot at any time -- but I want to explain again why the Winnipeg Blue Bombers need a statue of Bud Grant in front of Investors Group Field.

Bud Grant was the most successful head coach in Bomber history; the third-winningest in pro football, and the personification of Bomber pride and tradition on the club's doorstep, maybe with Ken Ploen by his sideline side, would be a permanent reminder of men the Bombers and their fans could look up to.

Literally look up to, if their bronzed representations are large enough.

But, of course, Bud Grant wasn't always the CFL Hall of Fame and Pro Football Hall of Fame sure thing he became. First, he was a kid from Superior, Wis., who grew up hunting and fishing and went on to play in both the NBA and NFL before arriving in Winnipeg in 1953 via the Philadelphia Eagles because the Bombers paid better.

Four years later, the pay got even better.

A Bombers board of directors committee gave Bud his coaching break.

They did it with their fingers crossed, though.

Bud Grant was only 29 years old when the board, club president Jim Russell in particular, saw something in a player who had never been a coach.

But on Jan. 3, 1957, the day Grant's head-coach appointment was announced, the man the Bomber board was gambling on wasn't even in the city for the momentous occasion.

He was at his father's funeral in southern California. In Hollywood, reportedly. Which, coincidentally, isn't far from the Rose Bowl, where -- just three days earlier -- a young quarterback named Ken Ploen was leading his Iowa Hawkeyes to victory; as he would lead the Bombers to three of the Bud Grant Bombers' four Grey Cups during the late 1950s and early 1960s.

It would be three weeks before Grant would sit down over tea at the Winnipeg Press Club -- no, really it was tea -- and talk to reporters.

Decades later, that gamble the board took -- albeit the initial contract was only a one-year roll of the dice -- can be measured against the criteria the search committee drafted and the Free Press published. The expectations consisted of nine points to which the ideal candidate -- and in one case his wife -- needed to measure up.

The criteria captured a different time in sports, and society. Some of it makes me wince, and some makes me wistful.

-- -- --

1. He must be of excellent character and a credit to the club, on and off the field.

2. Good appearance was essential. He should be a large man rather than small.

3. A man between the age 35 and 42 was most desirable.

4. He should be a college rather than a pro coach.

5. The coach must have leadership qualities.

6. His disposition should be one acceptable to the players and the general public.

7. He must have a general knowledge of football, particularly the Canadian game.

8. His wife should be a credit to the community and to the coach himself.

9. He should be prepared to reside in Winnipeg.

-- -- --

Bud Grant didn't fit the age or coaching experience points of the profile, but he was a perfect fit for five, his wife for one, and when they both agreed to leave their home in St. Paul, Minn., and settle in Winnipeg year-round, the job was his.

I suspect there was the unlisted, 10th item where the young Bud Grant impressed the committee. Today it's known as the "It" factor.

Harry Peter "Bud" Grant would go on to coach 10 years with the Bombers before going home to coach the Vikings, and thereby become a football deity in Minnesota.

He still has an office at the Vikings headquarters.

And he is still worshipped in Minnesota. Last May, just before his 86th birthday, Bud Grant returned to Superior where he was honoured by his high school. His wife, Pat, died in 2009, but he still drives to the Wisconsin woods lakefront hunting and fishing home that's situated on land he began acquiring in university by scalping his Minnesota Gopher players tickets and being a baseball tournament arm for hire. It's the place he and Pat taught their brood about nurture and nature and retreated to relax.

But less than a week after his high school honoured him, a forest fire charred hectares of land around his home, turning the white pine his kids used to climb into a black skeleton.

"It's all gone now. All burned, " Bud told Minneapolis Star Tribune writer Dennis Anderson days later as they surveyed the site.

Then Bud said this: "We have to be thankful for what we have. It'll grow back. But I won't be alive to see it."

I hope Bud Grant is alive to see us erect a statue in tribute to him, the Bombers and their fans. And it will happen, with a little help from some big corporations. Because we always need to be reminded what success looks like. Perhaps never more than now if you're a Winnipeg Blue Bomber fan.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 20, 2013 B1


Updated on Tuesday, August 20, 2013 at 7:10 AM CDT: Replaces photo

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