Another phone call followed, and another, and soon Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman was driving to the now-closed team offices to see if Grant was there.
And everything that had been living in his now-scorched 400 acres was dead.
• • •
It’s last Wednesday, and Grant and Smith, in Grant’s Suburban, are driving among the charred ruins of Grant’s lifelong dream, his hunting and fishing land.
The former coach hadn’t been in his 400 acres when it burned. Instead he was still en route north.
Now he was recounting old times.
“When I got out of the service,’’ he said, “I had $300. With $100 I bought an Ithaca shotgun. I used another $100 for civilian clothes. So I had only $100 to buy land.’’
But Grant wanted the 1,500 feet of lakeshore badly. So he took on a partner, splitting the parcel 50-50. Then he borrowed $650 from a bank, and enrolled at the University of Minnesota, where he would play football, basketball and baseball, eventually being drafted professionally in each sport.
“I didn’t have a job at school, but I had to pay the bank each month for the land, so in summers I pitched town-league ball for $25 or $50 a game, whatever they’d pay me,’’ Grant said. “And I’d scalp the tickets I got for Gopher home games. Each ticket had a face value of $3.50. But I’d get $25 for a pair. Sid [Hartman] helped me with that.’’
Grant paid the $650 back in two years. Then his partner decided to get married, and needed cash.
“I bought him out,’’ Grant said, “borrowing another $750 from the bank and paying it off during my junior and senior years, again by pitching town ball and scalping tickets.’’
In 1968, after Grant came to Minnesota from Winnipeg to coach, he built his northwest Wisconsin lake home on the 1,500 feet of shoreline. The structure was untouched by the forest fire.
Now Grant, touring his charred hunting and fishing land, was pointing at a big ghost of a tree, its long limbs blackened.
“That white pine, every one of my kids has climbed to the top of it,’’ he said. “You can climb a white pine because its limbs alternate. You can’t climb a red pine as easily.’’
Here and there, some life was evident among the ruins. Black-capped chickadees flitted. A pair of drake mallards rose from a beaver-dam pond. And Canada geese honked overhead.
But through binoculars, Grant could find no sign of a loon that nests each year on his small lake. And there wasn’t a deer or deer carcass to be found.