By the mid '80s, however, Tricky Dick seemed pretty chill. We learn as much in "Letters to Bud," an in-depth series on legendary Vikings coach Bud Grant from Vikings.com writer Lindsey Young. The latest installment highlights Bud's national celebrity. Among his fans? A post-resignation Nixon, who had settled into a life of writing, public speaking, and, apparently, NFL mega-fandom.
Nixon, we learn in Young's piece, was "America’s No. 1 football fan." In 1969, he became the first sitting U.S. president to attend a regular-season game (LBJ dorkily attended a preseason one three years earlier). Personally aggrieved that he wasn't able to watch his beloved Washington Redskins on TV, Nixon was the "driving force" behind Congress passing the 1973 Sports Antiblackout Bill, which eased blackout restrictions on locally broadcast games.
Then there's Nixon's admiration of Grant, the hard-scrabble Twin Ports kid who'd go on to dominate athletically at the University of Minnesota, play in three professional sports leagues (NBA, NFL, CFL), and earn a 168-108-5 record coaching the Vikes. Grant was the short-sleeved hero of Minnesota coaches from 1967 through 1983, leading his team to four Super Bowls, all of them losses. Ahead of the 1984 season, Bud announced his retirement; his successor, Les Steckel, staggered to a 3-13 record. That apparently didn't sit well with the 37th president.
Nixon -- "a football fan and a Bud Grant fan" -- issued the following letter to Grant on January 30, 1984, from New York City. Here's an image of it, courtesy of Vikings.com:
And here's the full text:
As a football fan and a Bud Grant fan, I was deeply saddened to read the new in this morning's Times that you were retiring. The article pointed out that next to George Halas you had the highest winning percentage of any coach in the NFL. But what I will remember most is your unfailing good sportsmanship and coolness under fire. Win or lose, you were always in charge of the team and of your own emotions. You set an example for conduct on the sidelines which I trust younger coaches will attempt to emulate.
The story indicated that you had no plans to coach again. I hope that after a year or so you will change your mind. We will all miss you and look forward to the time when you will be leading another team to the championship.
With warm regards,
Sure enough, Bud Grant returned to coach the 1985 Vikings, ultimately improving the team to a 7-9 record before calling it a career -- again. Did a plea from a disgraced ex-president hold any sway over his decision to un-retire? Probably not, but what a delightfully quirky footnote to both presidential and Minnesota sports history.
Nixon died in 1994. Grant, 91, just held a three-day garage sale at his Bloomington home.
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