In a column Sid Hartman published in the Star Tribune in March of this year, celebrating his 100th birthday, the legendary sports columnist who died Sunday wrote that, “During my career, I have traveled everywhere as a reporter …”
Well, not everywhere.
“Sid wouldn’t fly over water,” retired Vikings coach Bud Grant said Sunday a short while after learning that Hartman, his longtime friend, had died.
“When I decide to retire in 1983,” Grant said, “the first person I wanted to tell was Sid. I didn’t owe it to him as a reporter. But he was my best friend. So I told him I had something to tell him and that I wanted him to fly to Hawaii with me and that I would tell him when we got there.”
Grant was flying to Hawaii to tell Vikings President Max Winter his retirement news in person. En route, Grant figured he and Sid could talk over the decision, and after Grant broke the news to Winter, Sid could file his report from Hawaii.
Though Sid was legendary for his journalistic scoops, he had no inkling the Vikings Hall of Fame coach was hanging it up.
“The plane had to stop in Los Angeles before flying to Hawaii, and because Sid said he absolutely wouldn’t fly over water, I had to tell him about my retirement before we landed in Los Angeles, where he got off,” Grant said. “He promised he would wait to break the story until I got to Hawaii and told Max, and he did.”
Sid was the first person Grant met in 1946 when his grandparents dropped him off at the U as a highly touted recruit who would go on to star in three sports for the Gophers.
“I had a suitcase in my hand and walked into Cooke Hall [where the Gophers football locker room was located], and there was Sid, on his first day on the Gopher beat, as I recall,” Grant said.
The two couldn’t have been more different. A prep standout from Superior, Wis., who was fresh from a stint in the Navy, Grant was an athlete who was passionate about hunting and fishing. Sid was from north Minneapolis, didn’t play sports and was unfamiliar with ducks, deer or any other critter.
“We had very little in common. But we became the best of friends. Sid had integrity, which is why he was successful. He didn’t embellish what you told him, which is why you could trust him. I’ve said it before: As one man can love another, I loved Sid.”
“It’s hard to describe why we hit it off, because we were totally opposite of one another,” Grant said. “He was just a good person who as a columnist had integrity. He was involved in my life longer than anyone else, longer than my parents, my wife, my kids — longer than anyone. He was my best friend.”
From his early reporting days, Sid made a habit of coming to the Gophers locker room after practices. Other reporters had gone home by then or back to their offices, Grant said.
“I often was slow to dress and leave the locker room when I was playing at the U,” Grant said. “I had no place to go necessarily, and was in no hurry, so Sid and I often walked out of practice together. We’d end up having dinner together, and after I got married, my wife, Pat, would get off work at 6 and the three of us would eat together.”
Grant invited Sid to go duck hunting once, and the two of them, along with the late Otis Dypwick, the U communications director, and Gophers fullback, linebacker and captain Dave Skrien, left for Morris, Minn., after a Saturday Gophers football game.
“Otis was speeding through Litchfield, I think it was, and we got pulled over by a cop,” Grant said. “Sid of course got out and started talking to the officer, asking him if he was a football fan and telling him that right there, in the back seat, he had two Gopher football players. Sid told him we had just finished playing a game, and that we were going duck hunting.
“Then Sid said, ‘Would you like to see a game yourself?’ and the officer said, ‘Sure.’ So Sid pulled out a couple of tickets and handed them to the cop, who put them in his pocket. Then the officer handed a piece of paper to Sid and said, ‘And here’s a ticket for you, Mr. Hartman.’ ”
Sid and Grant’s relationship grew so tight that some 60 years later, on the night before Pat Grant died of Parkinson’s disease in 2009, she made her much-heralded goulash for her husband, their son, Peter — and Sid.
Sid not only wrote newspaper stories and columns starting in 1948, he managed the Minneapolis Lakers professional basketball franchise, and was instrumental in signing Grant to the team out of the U as the league’s first hardship case.
After two years with the Lakers, Grant departed pro basketball to earn more money playing both ways for the Philadelphia Eagles of the NFL. As a bonus, Grant didn’t have to fly to any more games in the Lakers’ chartered DC-3 airplane.
“One time we played the Celtics in Boston on a Saturday night and we had a game the next day back in Minneapolis at noon or 1 o’clock in the afternoon,” Grant said. “After the game, we took off in that DC-3 and we were banking over Boston Harbor when one of the two engines blew up and started on fire.
“John Kundla, our coach, and about half of the team were already deathly afraid of flying in that plane, and when the pilot finally got us back on the ground, Kundla got on the phone to Sid back in Minneapolis and told him we wouldn’t make the Sunday game, because the plane had broken down.”
That’s when Sid ordered Kundla to put the mechanic on the phone.
“Sid talked to the mechanic for a while, then the mechanic told us he would try to get the engine fixed in two or three hours. When he finally told us the plane could fly, we almost had to drag Kundla and some of the other players back on that plane, just so we could get back and play that game.”
Sid’s hearing grew so bad in recent years that he and Grant had difficulty talking to one another on the phone.
“But I was talking to him just last week, and his memory and his mind were sharp,” Grant said. “His recall was absolutely amazing.
“I can’t explain our friendship. And as I say, it was the longest relationship I’ve had with anyone. We had very little in common. But we became the best of friends.
“Sid had integrity, which is why he was successful. He didn’t embellish what you told him, which is why you could trust him. I’ve said it before: As one man can love another, I loved Sid.”