With the Eagles in town to play the Patriots in Super Bowl LII on Sunday, Bud Grant looked back on his two years playing with the Philadelphia franchise, his only seasons playing in the NFL. In 1951, Grant starred on defense and then in 1952 he starred on offense.
Grant gave a very emotional speech about his career Friday when he was honored at the Merlin Olsen Luncheon, put on by the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Grant — along with Otto Graham the only two players to play in both the NBA and the NFL — was a first-round draft pick, No. 14 overall, by the Eagles in 1950.
“[The Eagles] drafted me, but between the Lakers money and the money I could make playing baseball in the summer — you know I made more money playing baseball than I did with the Lakers, town ball,” Grant recalled. “Well they offered me $7,500. I did not play.
“So when I went back to them after two years they reduced it to $7,000. I thought I might make more. I made less. $7,000 my first year there.”
While Grant was a standout wide receiver, the Eagles didn’t want him to play that position at first.
“I thought I was a receiver but as it turned out, they liked that I played defense,” he said. “So they put me at defensive end. We had a five-man defensive line in those days, so it was kind of a stand-up linebacker, defensive end. I was a speed rusher.”
Grant unofficially led the team in sacks and recovered two fumbles while playing all 12 games in 1951.
“I led the team in sacks, led the team in fumble recoveries, and I had a couple of interceptions,” he said.
After that season, Grant negotiated to play offense the following year. In 1952, he made 56 receptions for 997 yards and seven touchdowns.
“They said we have two receivers, and I said, ‘I’m better than either one of them,’ ” Grant said. “So I went back with the stipulation that I would play wide receiver. In order to facilitate that, I said I’m not going to sign a contract. I was the first person who played out their option in that era. It’s a different era [now]. I played out my option to guarantee that I would play offense. I played offense and was second in the league in receiving [in both receptions and yards] and got an invitation to the Pro Bowl.”
After those two NFL seasons, Grant left to go to Canada. The reason? Money.
“I had already contacted Canada, and I knew Butch Larson, he was a [University of] Minnesota player from Duluth, coached at Winnipeg, and I could make more money going to Canada than I could with the Eagles,” Grant said. “I went to Canada for $10,000.”
Head coach opening
In another interesting twist, when the Eagles won the NFL title in 1960, defeating the Packers and Vince Lombardi 17-13, they were led by quarterback Norm Van Brocklin.
Van Brocklin played three seasons in Philadelphia and completed 542 of 998 passes for 7,497 yards with 55 touchdowns. In the championship game he threw for 202 yards and a touchdown.
Three weeks after the championship, Van Brocklin retired and was immediately identified as a lead coaching candidate for the expansion Vikings.
Grant, after four years of playing offense in Winnipeg, became the Blue Bombers coach in 1957 and had already won two of his four Grey Cup titles by 1960.
Grant became the leading candidate for the Vikings job.
Max Winter, president of the Vikings, had gotten to know Grant when he was a basketball player for the Minneapolis Lakers. Winter begged Grant to take the job, but he turned it down.
All in all, the team interviewed 18 candidates before settling on Grant, Van Brocklin and Joe Thomas.
On Jan. 18, 1961, Van Brocklin was named the first Vikings coach. He coached the Vikings through the 1966 season, and Grant eventually took over as coach in 1967.
Yes, Grant had quite a record with the Vikings, even though he lost four Super Bowls. He remains one of only eight coaches in the history of the NFL to reach the marquee game at least four times, and his 168 victories, including the postseason, are the 18th highest total all-time.
And when you consider his 112 victories in the CFL, his 286 total wins would place him third overall among pro football coaches.
Six Super Bowls
Former Vikings coach Jerry Burns is sometimes forgotten as being one of the great Super Bowl coaches, because all of his appearances came as an assistant coach.
Burns was the head coach at Iowa when he left to join Lombardi’s staff with the Packers in 1966. Green Bay won Super Bowl I that season and then won Super Bowl II the following year.
It was then that Burns left to come to Minnesota and join Grant’s staff in 1968.
At the time, Burns said about the move, “One thing was the opportunity to coach offense, the phase of the game for which I’m best suited. Another is my fine relationship with Bud Grant. And the Vikings are a team of the future, a team on the threshold.”
Grant and Burns reached four Super Bowls together with the Vikings.
Burns was one of a kind as a coach, and Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton was fond of saying that Burns was the best offensive mind in the NFL.
NFL.com ran a list of their top Super Bowl quarterbacks this week, and Tarkenton was ranked No. 13.
Gregg Rosenthal, who wrote the piece, compared Tarkenton to Saints star Drew Brees, whom he placed at No. 12 overall. “Like Tarkenton, Brees is an undersized, undervalued but consistent star with an incredibly long run of statistical dominance,” Rosenthal wrote.
Tarkenton, of course, was one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, but he went 0-3 in Super Bowls with the Vikings as they faced some of the best teams in the history of the league.
Vikings aided Ajayi
One of the standouts for the Eagles in this postseason has been 24-year-old running back Jay Ajayi, and he figures to play a key role in the Super Bowl as well.
Ajayi was traded from the Dolphins right before the Oct. 31 trade deadline, and in exchange Philadelphia gave Miami a 2018 fourth-round draft pick. The Eagles had three third-rounders, getting one from the Vikings for quarterback Sam Bradford before the 2016 season.
Against the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game, Ajayi finished with 73 rushing yards on 18 carries to go along with three receptions for 26 yards.
The other pick the Eagles got was the 2017 No. 18 overall pick. They used it on defensive end Derek Barnett, who forced a fumble on his team’s lone sack of Case Keenum two weeks ago.
Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday, 2 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday. • firstname.lastname@example.org