There certainly have been a lot of noteworthy moments for the Vikings over the years, from drafting Tommy Mason No. 1 overall as an expansion team in 1961 to landing Randy Moss 21st in 1998 to letting their time expire in 2003 and letting two teams pick ahead of them before picking Kevin Williams in the first round.
But looking back, perhaps the Vikings’ most interesting draft came in 1967, when Bud Grant made his first picks as an NFL coach from the hospital.
The Vikings hired Grant to be their coach on March 10, 1967, only four days before the NFL draft was set to commence at the Gotham Hotel in New York City.
Grant said that because he had been so focused on coaching the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the Canadian Football League, he wasn’t well-versed in the college players available. But the Vikings had three first-round picks that year: The No. 2 overall pick, acquired from the Giants on March 7 when Fran Tarkenton was traded to New York; their own pick at No. 8; and the No. 15 pick, acquired from the Rams in a trade that sent Mason and Hal Bedsole to Los Angeles.
And mind you, back in 1967 there were 17 rounds in the NFL draft, and the Vikings ultimately ended up selecting 18 players.
“I was not privy to a lot of what was going on in the draft prior to my first year,” Grant recalled. “When I came here, [General Manager] Jim Finks and [team scout and director of player personnel] Jerry Reichow and I talked about upcoming players in the draft. I knew very little about them because I was in Canada, but they knew a lot about them.
“Jim Finks had a medical condition. He was in the hospital. So we drafted from Jim Finks’ room in the hospital. Jerry Reichow, myself and Jim Finks drafted from his hospital room on the telephone. I knew some of the top players. We drafted Clint Jones, Gene Washington and Alan Page.”
Page of course, would go on to a Hall of Fame career as a defensive lineman. Michigan State teammates Jones, a running back, and Washington, a wide receiver, each spent six years with the Vikings. Second-round pick Bob Grim played receiver for 11 NFL seasons, including seven with the Vikings, and seventh-round pick Bobby Bryant played 13 seasons as a cornerback here and was named one of the 50 greatest Vikings in 2010.
And looking back at how the draft has changed, in December 1962 I covered Grant’s Winnipeg team in the Grey Cup, a game that came to be known as the Fog Bowl because the weather was so bad in Toronto they had to suspend the action and finish it the next day.
But I couldn’t stay for the end, because I took the train from Toronto to Chicago, where the NFL draft was being held at the Sheraton Hotel. There was hardly any press coverage for the event. And every team had only one table and chairs.
In that draft, there were only 14 franchises in the NFL and the draft took 20 rounds with 280 selections. The Vikings had the No. 3 overall pick and selected Mississippi State defensive tackle Jim Dunaway — who never played for them. He decided to sign with the Buffalo Bills, who selected him ninth overall in the AFL draft three days earlier. The Vikings drafted Gophers star linebacker Bobby Bell in the second round, but he also chose the AFL over the NFL.
In fact, of the 18 players the Vikings selected in that draft, only five played for them, and only one — fourth-rounder Paul Flatley — played more than two seasons in purple.
Could have been O.J.?
Grant said that one of the biggest what ifs in Vikings draft history came in 1968, when the team had the No. 1 overall pick and took future Hall of Fame tackle Ron Yary.
Had the rules been different, the Vikings might have ended up with another player from Southern California instead. At the time, NFL teams only could draft college seniors, a rule that didn’t change until 1990.
“It’s kind of fate. O.J. Simpson was only a junior. Now in today’s draft we would have taken Simpson, but in those days you couldn’t take an undergraduate, you had to take seniors,” Grant said. “… He was a great All-American player. But we were lucky we got a guy like Yary, who played for  years, got a great player, an All-Pro, a Hall of Famer. But if it had been today’s thing, we would have drafted O.J.”
Certainly, for the Vikings of the 1960s, scouting of college players was a whole different ballgame than it is today for the team and General Manager Rick Spielman.
“There is more information there for everybody to look at, and the Vikings have done a tremendous job in their draft,” Grant said. “They have so much more information than we had because we had scouts, but we didn’t have this film and reports they have on these players. They press buttons and they can see what these players are doing. So they don’t make many mistakes on the draft.”
Grant was asked if he had a favorite pick over the course of his 18 drafts with the Vikings.
“I am beholden to too many players to say one is the best,” Grant said, mentioning Jim Marshall, who was acquired in a trade with Cleveland before the 1960 season, and Mick Tingelhoff, who became a Hall of Famer after signing as an undrafted free agent.
Grant added: “Being able to get an Alan Page and a Ron Yary and a Carl Eller, there weren’t many better than those players that we got. When I came here, we had some good players. ... Timing is everything. I just came in at a good time.”
Drafted as a player
Grant was one of the first players to understand the importance of a rookie contract and trying to control your value. He was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the first round of the draft in 1950. But he decided to stick with playing basketball with the Minneapolis Lakers, who had drafted him in the fourth round in 1950.
He was trying to make as much money as he could playing sports, so he decided to wait out the Eagles.
“They offered me a contract for $7,500, No. 1 draft choice. That was a lot of money when you don’t have any money,” Grant said. “I went and played with the Lakers for two years and I thought, ‘Well now I’m in a good bargaining position, so I’ll go back to the Eagles.’ They cut me $500 and they only offered me $7,000. I said, ‘Well I’ll sign one contract,’ and I played out my one year of my contract and when my second year was up, the option was up, and I was free to go to Canada to play.”
Yes there is perhaps no person better versed in the history of the NFL draft than Grant, even if things have changed drastically in the 68 years since he was first drafted.