Originally published August 24, 2013.
In my mind I have struck up friendships, or at least become temporary pals, with various sports celebrities, particularly those from my Minnesota childhood and young-adulthood. I imagine that I find common ground with amiable sluggers like Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, and Kirby Puckett, as well as slick football dudes like Fran Tarkenton and Ahmad Rashad, and even the oh-so-cerebral Rod Carew, the batting champ who in 1977 flirted with 0.400 before slumping to a merely excellent .370, and who married a Jewish woman and was a presence at B’Nai Emmet.
I never met any of those guys, two of whom are now deceased. I did meet and have a fine chat with Jim Rice, the former Red Sox outfielder. A few years ago he visited the company in Waltham, Massachusetts, where I was working. We talked about Minneapolis, the Twins, catching fly balls at the Metrodome, and I forget what else. I’m sure this wasn’t the highlight of Mr. Rice’s day, but the two of us pulled it off. We managed an actual conversation.
But Bud Grant, he’s a different animal. Bud Grant was the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings of the 1960s and 70s, which were very good teams that won regularly and methodically, although not spectacularly. Coach Grant’s nickname was Old Stone Face, so called because of his extremely serious, unemotional approach to the otherwise testosterone-fueled sport of professional football. He also was—and surely remains—a man who suffers fools ungladly, if at all.
Could the two of us sustain a conversation for longer than a sentence for two? Check out this chart to help you form an opinion.
Numerical Characteristic Me Bud
Visits to Minn. State Fair ~50 0
Size of collection of airline timetables ~1,400 0
NFL victories as head coach 0 158
Minnesota Vikings seen naked 0 513
Ducks shot and killed from a boat 0 829
K-12 science books written or edited 32 0
Years at Temple Israel Hebrew School 9 0
Parkettes dated 0 ???
And the list goes on.
Every conversation I imagine with the old coach ends the same way, with him saying “Please shut up and go away.” Here’s an example:
Joe Berman: I’m pleased to meet you, Coach.
Bud Grant (gruffly): Nice to meet you too.
JB: I read in the paper that you’ve never visited the Minnesota State Fair. Is that right?
BG: Never had a reason to. I don’t really like crowds. Of course we always had football practice at the end of summer.
JB: Well, if you ever go, try the corn dogs and the honey ice cream. And I bet you’d like the exhibit from the Department of Natural Resources, which is devoted to wildlife and the outdoors.
BG: Yes, that sounds worthwhile.
JB: They’ve got a pond full of lake trout. Or is it goldfish? I forget, but it’s really great. I mean, if you like that sort of thing.
BG: Uh huh.
JB: Did you ever hang out with the Parkettes? They were the Vikings cheerleaders, you know. I went to St. Louis Park High School with them.
BG: Please shut up and go away.
Here in the Age of Astoundingly Powerful Media, we have instantaneous access to all sorts of details about almost everybody. Pick anyone you care to–maybe a man or woman whom you admired in your youth, who played a certain defining role in your childhood or early adulthood or some other emotional time—and chances are you could find out their birthday or the name of their brother-in-law or some other fact of no consequence. Past glories might die or slowly fade away, but the chronicles remain published on Wikipedia, the trivia enshrined on Facebook pages.
So Bud Grant, if you’re reading this, then…..well, if you’re reading this then that’s really, really cool. Hi, how you doing? How’s the family? I hope life is treating you well. And…um, please forgive the intrusion. Also, happy birthday. I mean, on whatever date that happens to be. (Sorry, I looked it up just now. It’s May 20th.)