Bud Grant was leaving the Philadelphia Eagles at the same time John Michels was arriving to play 11 games as a rookie guard in 1953. Grant was an end for four seasons with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, and Michels spent three years in the U.S. Army as a lieutenant after that one season with his hometown Eagles.
The Blue Bombers hired Grant as a 29-year-old head coach for the 1957 season. Grant knew of Michels for his All-America career at Tennessee, and that brief time with the Eagles, and brought the Army vet to Winnipeg as a player in 1957.
Michels saw coaching as his future and went to Texas A&M as an assistant to new coach Jim Myers in 1958. Grant had coached Winnipeg to a Grey Cup championship in 1958. He needed a line coach and brought back Michels in 1959. They were together for eight seasons in Winnipeg and there were three more Grey Cup titles.
Michels died Thursday at age 87 in Kingsport, Tenn. And this is how close the young families of Bud and Pat Grant and John and Ann Michels became during those happy days in Winnipeg:
“I was a small kid and got in a fight in school,” said Mike Grant, Bud’s son. “My dad was out of town, and my mom was occupied somewhere, and the person who came to grade school to deal with me was Johnny.
“Johnny and Ann had kids the same age. My mom and Ann were best friends. I have this glimpse of being about 4, and watching Bud and Johnny playing on the Blue Bombers’ city league basketball team.
“Johnny was a 5-foot-9 power forward with no basketball skills. Something happened and he punched a guy, dropped hm. You didn’t want to mess with Johnny.”
Michels came to Minnesota with Grant and was the offensive line coach for 26 seasons and three coaches. Les Steckel demoted Michels to running backs coach in 1984. Messing with Johnny was an early hint that poor Les was going to be a rapid-fire failure (3-13 and gone) as Bud’s first replacement.
“Whatever ‘it’ is, Johnny had ‘it’ as a coach,” Mike Grant said. “He could get on a player, loudly, but they all loved the guy.”
Read Reusse’s blog at startribune.com/patrick.
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