Leave it to Bud Grant.
Known for his stoic sideline demeanor during his 18-year tenure (’67-’83, ’85) as the best coach the Vikings ever had, Grant provided the most memorable moment of the entire Wild Card playoff weekend.
The old coach hasn’t actually coached a game in 30 years, but he’s still coaching, still teaching. Sunday, he wanted to make sure the Seahawks knew the little chill in the Minnesota air wasn’t about to affect the Vikings.
The thermometer read minus-six degrees, and Grant’s 88 years old. But there he was, stooped, ambling out for the pre-game coin toss at midfield, game face on, tipping his hat to the crowd.
In a short-sleeve polo shirt.
Who didn’t find themselves stunned by that image?
Bare-armed against the piercing cold. Bare eared, too. Up top he sported only a Vikings baseball cap.
According to NFL spokesman Greg Aiello, prior to heading out to the field, Grant turned to an NFL staffer and asked, “Would you hold my jacket while I go out for the toss and show how we love this weather?”
That’s just how it was back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, when Grant’s Vikings played their games outdoors at Metropolitan Stadium. The Met was a minor league facility slightly upgraded to accommodate the Washington Senators’ arrival to become the Twins in 1961. The Met had such a small field that when configured for football, both teams had their benches on the same side of the field.
Imagine that in today’s game, trying to get the proper personnel onto the field with an additional 40 yards or so to cover from the other side of the 50-yard-line. Aaron Rodgers would go undefeated at the Met.
But the close proximity also gave opponents an excellent look at the Vikings bench. And no matter how cold it got, how hard the wind blew, or how thick the snow fell, there remained one constant: the Vikings ignored the weather.
The Vikings never wore warm-up capes. Never wore gloves, long sleeves, or long johns. And heaters by the bench? No way.
“We kind of giggled at it,” quarterback Fran Tarkenton told Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post last week. “They had to look at us and say, ‘These people are crazy!’”
“We kind of embraced the cold,” added defensive end Jim Marshall. “It was our identity. When we played in the cold, we always felt we had an advantage.”
Many Minnesotans felt the Vikings lost a key element of their identity when the team moved inside the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome for the 1982 season. Perhaps they’re right. They haven’t made a Super Bowl appearance since.
Grant led the Vikings into the Super Bowl four times, though they lost each one. In one stretch they lost the biggest game three times in four years, setting a standard exceeded only by the Buffalo Bills.
And they had their greatest success when embracing the cold. The Vikings posted one winning season during their first six years. Grant went 3-8-3 in his first year, 1967. Starting the next year, the Vikings won their division 10 times in 11 years.
Each season, as winter’s cold set in, Grant addressed the issue with his team. He’d mention the Eskimos who built railroads in Alaska, and did so with their tough mindset. It wasn’t cold to them; it was just another day.
“We knew our advantage was to not recognize how cold it was and to concentrate on your skills, and what you need to do to win,” Marshall recalled for Kilgore.
“You don’t stay warm. You’re cold. So what?” Grant asked Kilgore. “We never had anybody who froze to death playing football. You probably had somebody who died from heat stroke playing football.”
As for those space heaters, Grant had an additional reason for banning them. “What are the players doing?” he again asked Kilgore. “They’re huddled around the heaters. Our players? Watching the game. Ready to play.”
Grant did admit to taking full advantage of the cold. “We kind of hammed it up a little bit,” he told Kilgore. “The other team would be all warmed up. We’d go out without our warm-ups and had short sleeves. We kind of mocked the other team. We showed them, and the fans, this is cold, but this is Minnesota.”
Sunday’s frigid scenario played out perfectly. The Viking defense resembled Grant’s famed Purple People Eaters, shutting out the Seahawks through three quarters. The 9-0 lead looked quite safe until the Seahawks finally put together a successful drive.
It took a crucial fumble by Adrian Peterson, the league’s best running back, and one of the worst kicks in recorded history by Blair Walsh, to swing the game to the Seahawks, 10-9.
And now, sadly, the Vikings are set to move back inside. U.S. Bank Stadium, on the site of the Metrodome, will be ready for play in the fall.
That means we’ve seen the last of Bud Grant, defying the cold.