It was a timely phone call to Mike Grant last week. Not only was his 9-0 Eden Prairie football team getting ready for its playoff game against Eagan, but the opening Saturday of deer hunting was fast approaching.
Mike and wife Colleen are avid hunters. Mike’s dad Bud Grant, the legendary former Vikings coach who passed away last March at age 96, was known almost as much for his outdoor passions as he was for football. Mike and Bud were close, and the EP head football coach thinks about his famous father every day.
“I talked to him every day in the fall (in past years),” Mike told Sports Headliners. “Yeah, it’s a strange first. You know the first football season without him and then the first hunting season without him, and it’ll be the first Christmas without him.
“It’s what everybody goes through, you know, when you lose a loved one. So…we’re not unique. We’re not special. It’s just we’re going through what everybody else has gone through.”
For the Grants hunting was more about being outside and sharing time with family than shooting wildlife. Last November Bud spent time deer hunting at Mike’s place near Wadena, Minnesota. It would be his last go round in a sport that began for him at 14 years old in rural Wisconsin.
Mike said he doesn’t know if Bud shot “50, 60, 100” deer in his lifetime but his dad liked to tell stories about them. “He could tell you that story of every single deer (he shot). He remembered them all.”
In younger days Bud could sit in a tree all day, ignoring the cold weather, eating a banana, and waiting for a deer. During the autumns of decades ago his dad insisted on minimal noise when deer hunting including no racket like slamming a car door. Later in life when Bud couldn’t walk distances, he told Mike to drive him right up to the deer stand. “It doesn’t matter, the deer don’t care,” Bud said.
In recent falls there was no hurrying Bud to get out into the woods. Everyone else was ready to go before the patriarch. Mike was anxious to get out the door, but Bud would say, “I’ve never shot a deer at sunup.”
Bud had a lot of mounted deer antlers at his Bloomington house. It was part of his makeup to collect things and that habit enabled him to have his well-publicized annual garage sales when he was in his 90s.
“He was very proud of his three-legged buffalo nickel,” Mike said. “In the end he’d forget that he showed you something and he’d get out his coin collection and say, ‘I got the three-legged Buffalo nickel.’ …”
Mike saw changes with his dad over the years, including a more talkative and outgoing Bud. A stranger might tell Mike how approachable Bud was, taking time to visit someone he had never met. “When he got into his 80s, he was very outgoing, very gregarious. Talked to people.”
As Bud aged, he lost more and more of his pals, with his kids (six children) filling the role of best friends. “He didn’t have many friends at the end,” Mike said. “Think about it. You’re 96.”
A difficult loss was when Minneapolis media icon Sid Hartman passed away in 2020. “You gotta figure Sid was a rock for him since (back when) he was in college. As cantankerous as Sid could be, he was my dad’s best friend,” Mike said about the relationship that formed when newspaper man Sid befriended Bud at the University of Minnesota.
The two didn’t get outdoors a lot and when they did Sid was out of his element. There is a famous story about the two having car trouble at night in the middle of nowhere. Sid started to walk for help and noticed what he thought was a spotlight from a nearby town. No, Bud corrected, that was the moon Sid spotted.
Mike brushed off the question if he dedicated this season to his Hall of Fame father who coached the Vikings to four Super Bowls. “I don’t know. I don’t even know what that means.
“No, I think about him every day. Miss him every day. My dad would say the same thing, ‘What does that mean (dedicating the season)?’…I don’t think that way I guess.”
Does Mike wear something that reminds him of Bud? A cap, shirt, or watch? Maybe use an old whistle of Bud’s on the football field. Nope.
Mike said he is sentimental but wearing things like that doesn’t resonate. “…I am not doing something for show. …I don’t need a thing to remember him every day.”
Bud coached his last Vikings team in 1985 but he remained interested in football and other sports. His analytical mind made him an interesting companion to watch a football or baseball game with.
“He was our biggest fan,” Mike said. “He watched our games closely. …For years he came to every game except when the ducks were flying, then he’d be gone.”
Bud was interested in Eden Prairie’s personnel and asked for scouting reports on the opposition, but he didn’t tell Mike how to handle the Eagles. “He was interested, but he did not tell me how to coach in any way, shape or form,” Mike said while referring to his dad more as a cheerleader than an advisor.
At age 66 Mike has far more coaching experience than his father who retired at 58. Mike has won 11 large school state championships at Eden Prairie. The 2023 Eagles are another powerhouse with a 10-0 record. The closest final scores for the Eagles were with Prior Lake and Minnetonka, who both lost by 14 points. The Eagles have been dominant, but Mike will tell you his teams don’t run up the score and they don’t “pad” statistics for individuals.
The Eagles play a 6A quarterfinal game this Friday against Lakeville North. Mike said there is a “standard for greatness” at Eden Prairie and in that sense the team has much to accomplish on their march to another possible 6A state tournament title. He praises the Eagles, though, for getting through a demanding regular season schedule against the bigger enrollment schools in the state.
The Eagles have talent, size (loaded with behemoths of 240 pounds or more) and experience with Grant saying, “it’s hard to win with juniors.” The roster includes defensive tackle Mo Saine, a Gopher recruit with lots of upside since he didn’t start playing football until 10th grade. Other standouts on defense include tackle Dennis Rahouski and under recruited defensive back Terae Dunn who Grant refers to “as good as any player in the state.”
Elijah Rumph, son of Vikings defensive line coach Chris Rumph, has been a leading rusher. Major contributors on offense also include quarterback David Ivey, tackle Ethan Sims who just committed to St. Thomas and Princeton-bound center Will Sather.
Mike is still passionate about coaching and plans to continue next season as head coach of the Eagles. He loves being around the players all year, whether it’s in the weight room, at practice or on gameday. And he just might get another state championship in his first fall without his dad.1 comment