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Feature   Know Your Military

Sports Heroes Who Served: Vikings Football Coach Was Sailor in WWII

July 6, 2021 | BY David Vergun , DOD News

Sports Heroes Who Served is a series that highlights the accomplishments of athletes who served in the U.S. military.

Harry Peter "Bud" Grant Jr. played football in the early 1950s before becoming the third most successful professional football coach overall with a combined 283 wins in the National Football League and Canadian Football League. 

A man wearing a cap smiles.
Bud Grant
Bud Grant poses for a photo wearing his Minnesota Vikings cap in 1968.
Photo By: Courtesy of Bud Grant
VIRIN: 680828-O-D0439-001

What is less known about Grant is that he enlisted in the Navy after high school in 1945 during World War II. Grant's first duty station was Treasure Island Naval Station in California, where he trained as a crewmember for a landing ship.

Before he could get his first taste of combat, the war ended. He was then assigned to Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Illinois where he played on the Bluejacket, the base football team.

The Bluejacket was coached by Navy Lt. Paul Brown, a World War II veteran. Brown later became co-founder and the first coach of the Cleveland Browns; the team was named after him.

Grant graduated from the University of Minnesota, where he played football, basketball and baseball. After graduation, Grant was selected in the first round of the 1950 NFL draft by the Philadelphia Eagles and was the fourth round selection for the Minneapolis Lakers in the National Basketball Association draft that same year.

A team makes touchdown as a referee moves toward the action on a foggy field.
Fog Bowl
Bud Grant, coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, leads his Canadian football team to victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 28-27 in Toronto, Canada, Dec. 1, 1962. The game became known as the "Canadian Fog Bowl" because the fog was so thick that attendees couldn't see most of the action, and the referees had a tough time making calls.
Photo By: Courtesy National Weather Service
VIRIN: 621201-O-D0439-001

Forced to choose, Grant opted for basketball, signing with the Lakers for the 1950-1951 NBA season. In 1950, they won the Basketball Association of America championship. The team would later become the Los Angeles Lakers.

After two seasons with the Lakers, Grant decided to give football a shot. The Eagles snapped him up.

In 1951, during his first season with the Eagles, he played as a defensive end and led the team in sacks.

During the second season, he switched to offense as a wide receiver and ranked second in the NFL for receiving yardage, with 997 yards on 56 catches, including seven touchdowns.

A man stands at a microphone on a podium.
Grant Remarks
Bud Grant speaks at the American Legion National Convention in Minneapolis, Aug. 28, 2018.
Photo By: American Legion photo
VIRIN: 180828-O-D0439-001

Despite his value to the team, the Eagles refused to raise his salary at the end of his two-year contract, so he jumped ship. He crossed the border and joined the CFL's Winnipeg Blue Bombers in Winnipeg, Canada.

During his years with the Blue Bombers, 1953 to 1956, he switched positions once again, showing his great versatility as an offensive end.

Grant was named a Western Conference all-star three times during those years. He led the Western Conference in pass receptions for the 1953, 1954 and 1956 seasons and receiving yards for the 1953 and 1956 seasons.

He also holds a CFL record for five interceptions in a playoff game, played on Oct. 28, 1953. The Blue Bombers played for the Grey Cup in 1953, but they lost to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. The Grey Cup is Canada's equivalent to the Super Bowl.

A man sits in a chair in a crowded spectator area and gives the thumbs up sign.
Football Fan
Bud Grant watches a game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Washington Redskins, Oct. 24, 2019.
Photo By: Courtesy of Bud Grant
VIRIN: 191024-O-D0439-001

In 1967, Grant's career took yet another dramatic turn when he became the coach of the Minnesota Vikings, a move that lasted from 1967 to 1983 and 1985.

During his tenure there, he led the team to four Super Bowls: 1970, 1974, 1975 and 1977, making him the most successful coach in Vikings history.

More Sports Heroes Who Served
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Sports Heroes Graphic
Sports Heroes Who Served graphic - with title
Photo By: DOD
VIRIN: 200706-D-ZZ999-903