Growing up as the son of a hall-of-fame coach was nothing special for Delano’s Peter Grant
By Matt Kane
DELANO First jobs are often memorable. For some, the memory is of mowing lawns, babysitting, busing tables or maybe flipping burgers. Peter Grant remembers one of he and his younger brother Mike’s first jobs.
“We picked up dirty towels and jock straps and T-shirts, and we got up before 7 o’clock and woke up all the players at 7 o’clock, and we worked until 6 p.m. We were the ‘training camp help,’ they called us,” Peter said.
The Grant brothers have since grown up and found different jobs. Peter Grant is a business coach at JP Connection, Inc., the business he and his wife, Jennifer, own and operate out of their home in Delano. Mike Grant is the head football coach at Eden Prairie High School.
Both may remember that locker room job forever.
Those jock straps and towels the two Grant boys picked up weren’t just any jock straps and towels. Some were worn and used by hall-of-fame football players Fran Tarkenton, Alan Page, Ron Yary, Paul Krause and Carl Eller.
“My brother Mike and I used to go down to Mankato for six weeks and spend a lot of time down there. We got to know everybody,” Peter explained. “There wasn’t free agency, so there would be only two or three new players on the team every year.”
For 18 seasons (1967-83, 1985), the string of Grant brothers, Peter and Mike and then younger brothers, Bruce and Dan, worked the locker rooms and practice fields at what was then Mankato State University during Vikings training camp and then the sidelines at the Metrodome during Vikings home games.
“When Joe Kapp was there or Fran (Tarkenton) were there, if they wanted to play catch after practice, they would play with us,” Peter explained.
To work with a NFL team sounds like the job of a lifetime for a teenager, but, back in the 1970s, before the NFL became a year-round, 24/7, multimedia operation, that locker room job was just a job and those interactions with the players were just conversations with friends.
“We were around each other a lot, especially at training camp. We grew up with them,” Peter said. “We knew Fred Zamberletti as ‘Fred.’ And Jerry Burns as ‘Jerry.’
“Now, when we see them at different anniversaries and events, they will remember us because we were around enough back then.”
To the Grants, the Vikings players were not role models to be worshiped. They were friends.
“We went hunting with a lot of them, because a lot of them liked to hunt. We went hunting with Mick and Wally and Lonnie and Roy Tingelhoff, Hilgenberg, Warwick and Winston,” Peter said, clarifying. “Back then, we would spend some time with them because it was more of a family ordeal in the organization. It was different back then.”
That was the 1970s, when Peter, now 58, was a teenager. The change of the decade carried with it change in the NFL and its players.
“When I was five years removed and would go back to the locker room and see guys five years younger than me, it was already different,” Peter said. “They were paying them bigger money and TV was bigger and the NFL was getting bigger. There was more money in it. And the guys were more goofy.”
“Back when I was there, if the guys had an issue with each other, they would go behind Gage Hall and have a fight. Not an argument, a fight. Then they would go have a beer and be alright,” Peter explained. “When I was there in the ‘80s, they were having a sock fight. Things were different. My brothers Bruce and Danny probably see it differently because they were younger.”
The one thing that stayed the same from those teams of the ‘70s to the teams of the early ‘80s was the coach, Bud Grant.
To all the players who played for the Vikings from 1967 to 1985, Bud Grant was “coach.” To those Grant boys washing jocks in Mankato and tossing footballs to the officials during games at the Metrodome, Bud Grant was and always will be “dad.”
“I always knew what they were doing and where they were,” Bud Grant said of his sons doing the dirty work for the Vikings.
As for his boys hanging around grown men on a professional football team, Bud was fine with that. As long as the young boys didn’t pick up any of those players’ bad habits.
“I told the boys they could be in the locker room, but that those players were older than them, and they are going to swear,” Bud remembers. “‘They swear a lot; they smoke; and they drink.’ I told them, ‘Don’t emulate them. You can be their friends, but don’t emulate them.’”
Bud’s fatherly orders to his teenage boys worked.
“I don’t know if I have ever heard my kids swear,” he said.
Bud Grant wasn’t just any football coach, he was a hall-of-fame coach, who holds the team’s all-time record for wins by a coach, and led the Vikings to four Super Bowls.
Those feats are great for football historians and fans, but, to his family, Bud Grant was nothing more than a husband, father, and grandfather.
“My dad never did anything differently. To us, he was a football coach. He was the same guy as any other dad in that he would come home to go fishing with us, or say, ‘Hey, you’ve gotta get the dandelions out of the yard,’” said Peter when asked what it was like growing up as Bud Grant’s son. “That’s what it was like for me.”
When he was 2 years old, in 1957, Peter and his family moved to Winnipeg, where his dad, following a brief playing career in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles and then with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, took over as head coach of the Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League. When Peter was 12, in 1967, Bud was hired as the Vikings coach, and the family moved to the Twin Cities.
By the time Bud retired, for good, from coaching, Peter was 29 years old.
Peter stresses the point that, despite his father being in the newspapers and on television on a regular basis, has dad was an ordinary man with a job, just like anybody else’s dad.
Not everybody knows Peter is the son of the legendary Bud Grant, and that’s because none of Peter’s family brings it up in normal conversations.
“A lot of people don’t know. A friend I met with today had no clue,” said Jennifer, Peter’s wife of 11 years. “We don’t bring it up.”
Others sometimes do.
“The longer we are at some-place, eventually people figure it out. It’s never anything where we come up and introduce ourselves that way,” Peter said. “We have been introduced that way. But that has happened since I was 2. I have always discounted that. My mother would never allow us to be introduced that way.
“It’s not like we have Vikings tattoos,” said Peter. “Our friends in Delano, some have heard his name, but most of them never saw him coach. Their parents did.”
Bud’s popularity is still high in Minnesota, as evident by the line of fans waiting to get their copy of Bud’s recent book, “I Did It My Way,” signed by the coach Friday afternoon at the Barnes & Noble on Nicollet Mall.
Bud is also popular with his family, but they don’t need a book signed.
“We call (Bud) ‘Grandpa,” said Jennifer.
Bud is still dad to those four Grant boys and their two older sisters Kathy and Laurie and is now also a grandpa to 19, and a great-grandfather to seven.
While they are certainly aware of his background, none of Bud’s grandchildren ever saw him coach a game.
Grant family values
Jennifer grew up in Bloomington, where the Grant family resided and where Bud still lives in the family home. She admits to taking note of the fact that Peter was Bud Grant’s son, but was never star-struck.
“Right away, I got to know the family and its values,” she said.
Those values the Grants live by were the same values Jennifer’s family believed in.
“His dad had the utmost respect for his mom, and (Peter) treats me unbelievably, with respect,” Jennifer said, referring to the values Peter inherited. “I know that was passed down. (Bud) always made time for family.”
Maintaining a strong family life, despite the father being gone 26 weekends out of the year and on most nights during the season, was the job of Pat Grant, the late wife of Bud and mother of the six Grant children.
“She was wonderful, and did a great job,” Bud said of Pat, who passed away in 2009 from the effects of Parkinson’s Disease. “All the credit for those values goes to Pat. She was a great mother hen.
“Sometimes in bed at night, I knew she wasn’t sleeping. She was thinking about each of the kids and about what she could do the next day for each one of them.”
Family was always at the top of the Grants’ list, even during football season.
“It was important to have our family time. Everybody had to be home by 6 p.m. to talk about the day and see what was going on,” Peter said. “If you lose a game, you do not come home and yell at your mother or take it out on anybody else. If you lose a game, you are still coming home when you are supposed to be home, and, if it snowed, you are still going to get up and shovel that driveway. That was the way it was we just moved on. We had that perspective.”
Not even a Super Bowl loss deterred Bud Grant from his family values.
“There is a memory of the reaction and how he acted afterwords. He wasn’t quite as chatty,” said Peter, who attended the Vikings’ last Super Bowl, Super Bowl XI in Pasadena in 1977 a 32-14 loss to the Raiders. “But, when he got home, he was back to normal, and it was, ‘What are we having for dinner?’”
While there is no doubt Bud would have rather won one of those four Super Bowls he coached the Vikings in, the four losses have not changed him.
“Dad always says, he doesn’t know what would have been different in our lives if he would have won four more games, and I don’t know that anything would have been different,” Peter said.
It is all about family for the Grants. Before football and before the outdoors.
“It was always made clear to us that was not the most important thing. There were a lot of things a lot more important,” Peter said, correcting the reporter’s question about the Grant’s love for the outdoors. “If you got to the point where you wanted to do it and you had time to do it and you were keeping up with everything else, you could do it.”
Sounds like the same values many families, who were not raised by a NFL football coach, live by.
“Some of those old-school values are just how we grew up. We certainly didn’t think we were anything special,” Peter Grant said.
Bud Grant’s lifelong view that football is not the most important thing in life had his family rolling its eyes when Bud told them he was offered the chance to replace Mike Tice as the Vikings’ head coach in 2004.
“We all laughed because the way we lived when he was coaching is nothing like it is now. For him to get involved; everything changed a lot,” Peter said. “Back then, he had seven assistant coaches. When he’s at one of Mike’s games, he asks, ‘What do all of these coaches do?’”
The ideas of family and living a wholesome life are what attracted Peter and Jennifer to Delano 11 years ago.
“Everything had gotten big (in Bloomington). We wanted our kids to be able to do things like we did when we were growing up. What we figured is we wanted to go somewhere we could be out and have a little room, and also with good schools,” Peter explained. “We moved here, and it has not fallen short of any of those expectations. Our kids have been able to be part of school, sports, church and family.”
Grandpa Bud has visited Delano to watch his grandchildren play sports.
“Delano has nicer facilities than a lot of schools,” he said.
Bud remembers Delano when it was just a way to get out west.
“I’m old enough to remember when Highway 12 was just the main road that took you west out of Minneapolis. I used to drive through there a lot,” he said. “I hunted ducks out there when I was in college.”
Peter and Jennifer and the kids, minus Alaina, who was off at college at the University of Minnesota Morris, were all at the Delano homecoming football game Sept. 13, where they tailgated prior to kickoff. Rosie, a senior at Delano High School, skipped the barbecue in order to get a front-row seat for the game in the student section. A week later, the Grants were at the Eden Prairie football game to watch a niece perform at halftime. And, of course, to watch Mike coach the Eagles.
Stressing the importance of family stems from Bud and Pat Grant having grown up during the Great Depression. When the two started dating in college at the University of Minnesota, they had little money and no car. It was then the Grant couple decided being together with family was the most important thing.
“Even back then, there were people like coach Dick Vermeil, who almost killed themselves because they put a bed in the office and never saw their family,” Peter explained. “That wasn’t our deal. The office was nearby and dad was always home for dinner at 6 p.m., because we were always home for dinner at 6 p.m.
“Then, on Monday and Tuesday night during the season, when it was mostly Sunday games, he went back to the office and, if need be, he would go back on Wednesday night, but that was it.”
Bud said his situation in Minnesota allowed him to balance football with family.
“I had a lucky advantage in that I lived two miles from the office,” he said. “I would go home for dinner, and then head back to work after supper.”
Staying retired from the NFL has allowed Bud to continue doing what he enjoys spending time with his family at the cabin in Wisconsin and in the outdoors hunting with his boys.
“He loves spending time with the grandkids doing anything. Since my mother passed away, he has an appreciation every day to be able to do that,” Peter said. “When he first got done (coaching), he had a lot of things he could do. He went to more sporting events and more things with the kids and the grandchildren. I think he was busier.”
Bud thinks so, too.
“I shouldn’t be busier now that I am retired,” he said.
Bud still has an office with the Vikings at Winter Park, and does appearances, but the best part of his busy schedule is those hunting and fishing trips, and games of bocce with the grandkids.
Peter and Jennifer’s four children know about their grandfather’s past, but, to them, it is no big deal.
“They know it and we go to a Vikings game every year with him. They see his picture around,” Peter said of his kids’ view of Bud Grant. “They think it’s cool, but, to them, he is just grandpa; the guy who takes them out in the pontoon boat fishing, and the guy who teaches them how to take a fish off the hook. That’s who he is to them.
“To the kids, he is just goofy grandpa.”
Peter and Jennifer’s children are Alaina, Rosie, 19, Kiera, 17, Harry, 9, and Sophia, 6. Peter also has two grown children from previous marriages Jenn, who lives in Seattle; and Brian, who lives in Roseville.
Grandpa Bud’s coaching days don’t come up much in conversations with his grandchildren, at least not the young ones.
“I think it’s pretty cool, but I think of him more as just grandpa,” said Kiera Grant, a freshman at Delano High School. “He doesn’t talk about football much.”
And the grandchildren don’t ask him about football. When Alaina and then Kiera were assigned to do a report about a person they admire, they both chose Grandpa Bud. The reports spoke about Bud’s service in the Navy and his unmatched patriotism. Not about his hall-of-fame coaching career.
Grandpa Bud and the grandkids talk about the fishing contests and bocce tournaments at the cabin. None of Bud Grant’s grandchildren ever saw him coach a game of football.
“It’s cool,” was all Harry Grant, the fourth-grader in Peter and Jennifer’s family, had to say about his grandpa as a coach. Henry knows grandpa as a fisherman.
“He yells out how many fish he has,” said Harry, who is actually Harry Grant IV, falling in line after his dad, Peter (Harry III) and grandfather, Bud (Harry II).
“That was something we never talked about,” said Bud of Peter naming his son Harry. “I am honored they carried the name on.”
Harry IV is currently a flag football player. Although he vows to play for the Delano Tigers someday, he is known to raise questions from his teachers when he wears the colors of his Uncle Mike’s team, the Eden Prairie Eagles.
The Grant outdoors
When it comes to Bud Grant, people probably think of him first as the Vikings’ legendary coach. And then they think of his love for the outdoors.
“Some people have shrines to their athletic careers at home; he has deer horns hanging around,” Peter said of his dad. “He has some Vikings stuff, but there is no shrine.”
Football was a small part of the Grants’ lives, according to Peter.
“We all played football, but everybody stopped playing. Only Mike went on to coaching. (Football) is a minor part,” Peter said. “What we spent more time doing was being outdoors together.”
The football field often got in the way of the Grant boys getting out to the prairie grass field.
“As much time as we liked to spend out in the woods doing everything, we didn’t get to do it too much in the fall. There was five of us in football for a number of years,” Peter said.
In saying that, Peter noted a tradition the Grants honored during football season.
“When there was a home game, on Saturday, we would try to go hunting after practice,” Peter said. “So, the players knew practice was early because we were going hunting.”
When Bud retired, there was one thing on his mind.
“He said he was going to retire and he was just going to go hunting. He had been in football since 1945,” Peter said of his dad. “When you are retired, you don’t have to go hunting on the weekends. Those of us who are working cannot go during the week.”
Because of the conflicting schedules, the Grants were forced to schedule an annual hunting trip to Wisconsin, where Bud grew up.
Passing the game on
All the Grant boys played football, but only Mike Grant followed in his father’s footsteps, in that he became a successful football coach.
Mike has stocked Eden Prairie High School’s trophy case with eight Prep Bowl championship trophies, including three in the past three seasons. Currently in his 22nd season at Eden Prairie, Mike has a 232-24 record. The Eagles have won 15 conference championships and finished undefeated six times.
Mike played at St. John’s, where he won a national championship under legendary coach John Gagliardi.
Peter’s playing days came at Bloomington Lincoln High School, where he was the starting safety and a quarterback who couldn’t throw because of a constantly separating throwing shoulder. He went on to play one season at Normandale Community College.
“I played football and I enjoyed football,” said Peter. “I probably enjoyed practice as much as the games because it was something I just enjoyed and was comfortable being around.”
That comfort was probably a product of Peter’s time as a kid spent picking up jock straps.