Bud Grant's garage sale: Vikings icon a true man of the people

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. -- Bud Grant couldn't get why, on the first day of his annual garage sale at the house he's been living in since the late 1960s, several dozen people stood for hours under a tent, in the rain, at the edge of his driveway, waiting for the signal to begin shopping.

They could wait in their cars and not get wet, he said to me at last week's event.

I mentioned to him that, as the most successful coach in Vikings history, he's a living legend. Also, in these parts, the wet weather -- the temperature was in the 60s -- was nothing compared to Minnesota winters.

"I'll never understand it, but ..." Grant said.

Of course he understands it.

Vikings fans -- I was born in Minnesota, spent the first nine years of my life in North Minneapolis and loved the Vikings -- sat through brutally frigid temperatures to watch Grant coach the Purple People Eaters. They played in Metropolitan Stadium (now the site of the Mall of America) -- there was no Metrodome on the radar yet.

Weather is hardly a deterrent to capturing a part of history. And Grant is history.

He's a coaching legend in Canada, having won four Grey Cups with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. He coached only the Vikings in the NFL (1967-1983, 1985) and posted a regular-season record of 158-96-5.

He's a Pro Football Hall of Famer who coached numerous Hall of Famers: Fran Tarkenton, Alan Page, Carl Eller, Paul Krause and Mick Tingelhoff, to name a few. Grant coached the Vikings to four Super Bowls -- all losses.

Those Ls are rightfully always attached to Grant's coaching legacy, like they are to the legacy of former Buffalo coach Marv Levy, whose Bills lost four straight Super Bowls (some consolation to Vikings fans, whose team lost four over eight seasons). The Vikings haven't been back to the Super Bowl since the 1976 season, when Grant coached them.

Grant also is a man of these people. He still goes to his office almost every day at the Vikings' facility in Eden Prairie. He hunts and fishes and talks about both with current Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer, an avid outdoorsman.

Grant added that Zimmer has the team on the right track, despite a tough 2016 season, and that losing running back Adrian Peterson might not be a huge blow because of the other pieces that have been assembled.

Grant is also beloved because of the garage sales he's staged the past 12 years. He's opened a part of his world to the world. Imagine Mike Tomlin or Bill Belichick, Andy Reid or Pete Carroll welcoming you to his crib to buy his stuff.

Grant's house isn't gaudy or grand. It's a ranch-style home in a cozy, tree-filled suburban neighborhood -- with a porch that is freshly adorned with two new, green rocking chairs.

Several shoppers said they were there simply because they want something that was his. One man, holding a few fishing nets and an ottoman, said he might not ever use the stuff he bought. He'd copped some of Grant's items from previous garage sales and they're in storage somewhere in his house.

Besides fishing poles, Vikings gear and log cabin toys from his kids and grandkids, autographs and quick conversations with Grant appeared to be the most desirable features. Well, those and an autographed bobblehead doll of Grant and his late dog, Boom. The bobbleheads cost $150 apiece. Only 50 were shipped in time for the three-day bazaar in Grant's driveway, but more than 400 are on back order. Grant finally succumbed to selling bobblehead dolls after years of prodding.

At age 88, Bud Grant braved sub-zero temperatures in short sleeves for a playoff game coin flip. (AP)

Why? He turned 90 on May 20, a day after his garage sale ended -- a garage sale that he said might be his last. He won't voluntarily say this is it, but he told me, "I'm 90. Who knows? This is the last one until the next last one."

Before Grant walked to the edge of his driveway to blow his coaching whistle to start the garage sale, the crowd that had swelled to more than 100 sang "Happy Birthday." He enjoyed it.

The number of shoppers and their fervor is normal, he said.

Maybe on the surface, but you could sense that it wasn't. Almost everyone at least said hello to Grant and maybe got a picture. He patiently and welcomingly obliged. This felt more like a family gathering than a shopping free-for-all.

In my job with NFL Media, I try to engage with my subjects. To get to know them and to let them know me. It helps with storytelling and helps me portray things clearly and fairly. Rarely am I taken aback by or in awe of subjects I have to interview or report on.

With Grant, something was different. There was the aura of him standing in the frigid cold on the sidelines, never changing expression when Chuck Foreman caught a short pass from Tarkenton and made more spectacular moves than Le'Veon Bell for a 20-yard gain. There was the memory of him commanding a training camp practice in Mankato, while many of us jockeyed for position to get a closer look at Eller and Page.

More recently, before a wild-card playoff game the Vikings would lose to Seattle in January of 2016, Grant walked out for the pregame coin flip in short sleeves. The game was played outdoors at the University of Minnesota's stadium -- the Vikings' temporary digs while U.S. Bank Stadium, which has a roof, was being built -- and it was negative-6 degrees.

The crowd went bananas when he did it. I was there, not surprised one bit.

"I don't walk around like that, but it was the last game, the last outdoor game we're going to play," Grant explained to me. "You've got to make a statement. This is Minnesota. This is where we live. I think I made it."

His biggest statement nowadays?

"Work hard to have fun," Grant said.

I asked him if he's always had that approach, since he was always so stoic as a coach and seemingly one of those stereotypical tough guys. He said he's always been able to let the past be history and to enjoy life, especially if it took him to his love of hunting and fishing.

He punctuated that credo with the kicker to this anecdote:

Those of us old enough to know and care still feel the Vikings' Super Bowl losses, but maybe the most painful punch in the gut came in a 1975 division playoff loss to Dallas. Cowboys receiver Drew Pearson caught a Hail Mary on the right sideline over defensive back Nate Wright in the waning seconds for the victory.

To this day, those on the losing side bellyache that Pearson pushed off -- although he did make a great catch. So I asked Grant, hoping he could give me some clarity regarding that crushing moment.

"I've talked to Pearson since then and of course he pushed off," Grant said. "It cost us the Super Bowl, maybe, or cost us the chance."

Back to Grant's philosophy of working hard to have fun.

I asked him how bent out of shape he was in the aftermath of that gut-wrenching loss. He says now that he was nowhere near as despondent as you might imagine.

"I went hunting that next day," he said with a smile.

Shortly thereafter, he got up from our conversation and arranged some items on a table with family members while the rain fell and people positioned themselves for a piece of history.

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89.

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