Grant mourns loss of the great Billy Bye

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 14, 2009 - 9:15 PM

"Nobody is going to miss him as much as the University of Minnesota," he said of his friend.

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Billy Bye

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Nobody outside of his family knew Billy Bye better than Bud Grant.

The tragic death of Bye, a former great Gophers running back and great booster of the University of Minnesota who drowned when trying to untangle some weeds from the boat he was riding in with friends, came as a shock to everybody. But it struck Grant especially hard. He was close to Bye from the day they both reported as freshmen to the Gophers football squad in 1946.

They were scheduled to do at least one more thing together. Grant and Bye were two of the five captains appointed for the Gophers opening game at the new stadium next year. Now that will be a sad day with Bye being missed.

"I think he's probably the greatest high school athlete that Minnesota has ever had," Grant said. "I think he won 21 or 22 letters at Anoka, in all sports. He was a baseball player, a basketball player. Of course, he played football. He was a track man. He won the state golf championship. I think he won his first letter there when he was an eighth-grader. Great all-around athlete."

"But in addition to being a great athlete he was a great person, and tragically his life ended this week."

Grant talked about how brilliant Bye was academically.

"Well, that was one big difference: He was brilliant, and I wasn't very brilliant," Grant said. "Billy had a great intellect. He's the fastest reader I've ever known. And that usually means you absorb what you're reading. He was a great person to be around. He was always upbeat and brilliant in his personal life and in his association with his friends. He had a great life. Eight-two years old, you know, sounds like it's old, but nowadays it'stoo soon.

"We're missing a wonderful person. A great friend. A great friend to the university. He left the university and he had a gold stripe down his back, all his life. He was a great contributor to the University of Minnesota. A great supporter of everything that went on at the university. We're all going to miss him, but nobody is going to miss him as much as the University of Minnesota."

Yes, Billy was one of my very close personal friends, too. I broke into the sportswriting business the year before that 1946 group started playing football for the Gophers. The words "conflict of interest" were not invented at that time. I was just a few years older, so Grant, Bye and I spent a lot of time together.

There was a drugstore on the corner of Oak and Washington that was the hangout for a group that hung around together -- Harvey Solon, Vern Gagne, Ralph McAlister, Bye, Grant and others on that team. I had a few more bucks than most of those guys so we had a lot of meals together. It was there that Bye did a lot of the homework for the group because when it came to studies, he was by far the smartest.

Maybe the influence of his father, Morris Bye, who was the longtime superintendent of schools at Anoka, had something to do with Billy's sharp brain.

That was a great football team Bye played on. Six members of that team were No. 1 draft choices -- Clayton Tonnemaker, Wayne Robinson, Floyd Jaszewski, Gordie Soltau, Leo Nomellini and Grant.

Grant, a great sportsman, had a message for everyone about Bye's drowning.

"It's preached all the time, if you're going to go in the water, other than just basically a swimming operation, wear a life jacket," Grant said.

"Have a life jacket on, or available, so that if anything does interrupt your enjoyment of the water, you have a life jacket with you. I think that might have prevented what happened, but that's all hindsight now."

The funeral will be at 2 p.m. Wednesday afternoon at the St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Eden Prairie. Visitation will be at the Washburn-McReavy Edina Chapel from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday.

Allen better

Jared Allen, the great defensive end who joined the Vikings last offseason and had a great season, looks for things to be even better this year.

"Just try and get better and improve from year to year," said Allen, who had 14 1/2 sacks in 2008 and made the Vikings defense that much better.

"Just like always. Same system, so I'm used to it. Like I said, I'm not learning anything this year. Now I'm just going out playing football and have fun.

"Hopefully, we'll be right up on the top again. I have high expectations for us."

About his activity in the offseason Allen said: "Did a bunch of stuff, traveled a lot. Just been working out and staying in shape and ready to rock and roll. I was over in Africa. Safari, saw a lot of animals, all that good stuff. Left the guns at home. Brought the cameras this time."

Jottings

The only negative thing about the Twins moving into the new stadium is that they have been receiving about $20 million a year in revenue-sharing. That number will go way down because the new stadium will bring in a lot more revenue than the Metrodome has.

The recommendation of University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks that beer not be sold in the new campus stadium could cost the school a lot of money and the chance to pay off the stadium debt in a lot less time. ... Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi has decided to raise the price of the basketball tickets. The tickets will cost $1 more, while prices of hockey tickets will stay the same. The Gophers will play three fewer home games this season so the price of season tickets will actually be lower. ... While there has been a lot of speculation about the Big Ten expanding to 12 teams, the consensus of the schools in the 11-school conference is to wait until Notre Dame decides to make a move.

The appearance of the Pirates here for the first time, for a three-game series starting Tuesday, will bring back memories to Twins broadcaster Bert Blyleven, who in 1979 was a member of the team that beat the Orioles in the World Series. Blyleven was 12-5 with a 3.60 ERA that season. In the World Series he made one start and another appearance and was 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA. ... LaTroy Hawkins, the former Twins pitcher who has moved around since leaving here, is a member of the Houston Astros, who play here next weekend, and is 1-2 with nine saves and a ERA of 2.60. He might be the addition the Twins need to the bullpen.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on his Podcast once a week at www.startribune.com/sidcast. shartman@startribune.com

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