Mike Grant has been involved in coaching high school football for four decades. His father, Bud, has attended a fair number of those games, particularly since 1992, when Mike became the coach at Eden Prairie High School, located roughly 3 miles from the Grants’ family homestead.
“If one of our players let a punt hit the ground, I knew what was coming when I saw Dad after the game,” Mike said. “He’d say, ‘Mike, your player has to catch that punt.’ And then I’d be reminded that when a returner lets a punt hit the ground, it can cost your team 20 yards.
“Those postgame lectures from Dad about ‘20 yards of field position’ … that’s the reason I don’t think any high school team practices catching punts more than us.”
The butchered punt returns witnessed in high school, televised college games and now in Vikings games led to this call to Mike Grant, admired for his observational powers for all levels of football.
Question: “What’s going on with the fumbled punts?”
Grant: “There are no Charlie Wests with the Vikings, for sure. Beebe on Sunday … I like his hands as a receiver, but he tried to catch that punt off his chest. That’s the mortal sin of punt returning.”
Most redemption stories, in sports or life, take a bit longer than Chad Beebe’s in the Vikings’ 28-27 victory over Carolina on Sunday in the ZygiDome.
Idiotic clock usage had forced Carolina to punt before the two-minute warning while leading 24-21. Beebe had taken over as the punt returner, after rookie K.J. Osborn had continued his campaign to give coach Mike Zimmer a nervous breakdown.
Beebe went for a fair catch on this Carolina punt, let it ricochet off his chest, and Carolina recovered at the Vikings 9. The two-minute stoppage, a final timeout and an awful pass from the perpetually mediocre Teddy Bridgewater gave the Vikings the ball with 1:52 remaining and down 27-21.
Kirk Cousins completed six of seven passes on a rapid, 75-yard touchdown drive. Three of those went to Beebe, including a 10-yarder for the first touchdown of his pro career, and the Vikings escaped to remain breathing for a wild card in the low-wattage NFC.
“I would say what happened on the fair catch gave me an extra layer of attitude on the winning drive,” Beebe said. “I think the whole offense used it as an edge. When we got to the sideline, the message was, ‘It’s not over. The defense is going to hold and we’re going to have a chance to win this game.’ ”
Beebe spent five seasons at Northern Illinois, redshirting as a senior because of injury. He is 5-10 and 185 pounds. He is the son of Don Beebe, a receiver and a member of six teams that reached the Super Bowl (Buffalo, 0-4, and Packers, 1-1).
Don showed up at the 1989 NFL combine out of Chadron (Neb.) State and a ran a 4.25 in the 40-yard burst. Deion Sanders did the same, and they shared the fastest-ever record at a combine until 2008.
“Unfortunately, I don’t have my dad’s speed,” Chad said. “I didn’t have that much going for me. Injuries took me out for a time every year at Northern Illinois. All I had was heart, will, and a want to win.”
Beebe made it to the Vikings’ minicamp in 2018. He was signed coming out of that and added to the practice squad. A Stefon Diggs injury elevated him to the roster that November, and he played in three games before a hamstring injury.
He was on the roster to open the 2019 season and earned a place with Vikings’ true hearts in Game 2: a 61-yard pass play, Kirk Cousins to Beebe, that took the Vikings to the Green Bay 3 late in the first half at Lambeau Field.
The Vikings marched from there to a field goal and lost 21-16. And then in the next game, Beebe tore ligaments in an ankle, and his season was over.
It took until Sunday for Beebe, 26, to have his next great NFL moment, the winning touchdown, right after that worst moment.
So, what happened on the punt, Chad?
“When you are back there, you have split-second decisions to make,” Beebe said. “I could have called for the fair catch earlier. You try to get as comfortable as you can, but there will always be a split-second decisions, and I made the wrong one.”
The absence of Adam Thielen gave Beebe a chance to be the third receiver, and he equaled his previous season total with seven catches.
Thielen will be back Sunday, which will put Beebe back to No. 4 behind the stars, Thielen and Justin Jefferson, and Bisi Johnson. As for punt returning … well, that’s up in the air.
Osborn has been less reliable than Rudy Giuliani’s hair dye. Beebe’s NFL track record includes three non-lost fumbles in brief duty in 2019, before last Sunday’s pre-triumph disaster. Maybe Bisi will be extra busy on Sunday.
Right now, there’s no Charlie West, or Marcus Sherels, or even Manfred Moore, who Bud Grant put back there in the days of Met Stadium (1977) and said, “Catch it. Don’t let it bounce, on the ground or off your chest.”
Bud was contacted for his reaction to the punt return woes of 2020. Yes, he was disturbed by those, but more so by what has become of the kickoff return in today’s NFL.
“One of the most exciting plays in football, and they have turned it into a waste of time,” Grant said. “I think they should have the Canadian rule — if you don’t run the ball out of the end zone, the other team gets a point.”
In the highly unlikely event that were to occur, maybe we could call Canada’s “rouge” a “Bud” here in the States.