One of the biggest story lines for this Super Bowl is the difference between the Patriots’ long-running dynasty under Bill Belichick vs. the young startup squad in the Rams with Sean McVay, who was the youngest head coach in NFL history when he was hired by the Rams at 30 and is now the youngest head coach in Super Bowl history at 33.
Former Vikings coach Bud Grant knows how it feels to be in both positions.
When Grant was hired by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 1957, he became the youngest head coach in Canadian Football League history at 29. His team would reach the Grey Cup, the CFL championship game, in his first season, and after that it would win the title in four of the next five seasons.
“You do not win with good coaches, you win with good players,” Grant said when asked about being a winning coach at a young age. “[The Rams] had a nucleus of good players, they have drafted good players, and they have stayed healthy and done a good job.
“You get continuity, and that helps. Certainly there are young coaches coming in all the time, and a lot of them aspire to be head coaches, but it is not the X’s and O’s that you do as a coach. It is the recognition of positioning players on the team, keeping them healthy, your scouting is good — those are the things that are as important as the coach or a particular player.”
Grant was a more seasoned coach during his time with the Vikings. From 1968 to 1980, they reached the playoffs 11 times in 13 seasons, including four Super Bowls in that stretch.
The Patriots have now reached the playoffs in 16 of 18 seasons and made nine Super Bowls in that time.
“Somebody is doing a good job,” Grant said of the Patriots. “They have also had good fortune. But you have good coaches, good players and good fortune, and that is what you need to have a winning season and go to the Super Bowl.
“I keep referring to luck — there is so many things you can control and there are things out of your control, like officiating can rob you.”
When Grant was asked about the four Super Bowl losses the Vikings had against the Chiefs, Dolphins, Steelers and Raiders, he said those were four of the best teams in league history.
“We played very good teams — Miami at their peak, Pittsburgh at their peak, Oakland, that was their run when we lost to Oakland,” Grant said. “But I think it is harder today.”
Can’t compare NFL eras
When asked how Grant would compare the Patriots dynasty to the Steelers dynasty in the 1970s — Pittsburgh won four Super Bowls in six seasons — he said the league is always improving.
“Well, it’s hard. The thing you don’t want to do nowadays is compare eras,” the 91-year-old Hall of Famer said. “I mean, football going forward has gotten better every year. There are more players that aspire to be professional football players, that train at getting better, evaluations are getting better, the coaching is getting better, the pool of players is getting better. You cannot compare a player from that era and this era.”
Still, Grant is very impressed by what the Patriots have done.
“It is hard to repeat nowadays with the movement of players and the draft and it kind of equals out so that every team — well, not every team, but half of the teams that start the season have a chance to get to the Super Bowl because the talent has leveled out and they are all pretty well equal now,” he said.
Did Grant want to predict a winner for the big game?
“Sid, that’s your job,” he said. “I can’t pick the winners. I never do. I never look at it that way. But the experts, you sportswriters, you pick the winners.”
Purdue has Gophers; number
The Gophers men’s basketball team always seems to have a hard time with Purdue. The Boilermakers, who play host to Minnesota on Sunday, lead the all-time series 94-78, and while the Gophers won in overtime at Purdue in 2017, that broke a streak of eight consecutive losses in West Lafayette, Ind., dating to 2005.
Ranked 17th, Purdue might be the hottest team in the country. After a stretch of four losses in five games that put the Boilermakers at 6-5 overall, they are 9-1 in their past 10 games, including a convincing 73-63 home victory over No. 6 Michigan State a week ago.
There’s no doubt the Gophers (16-5, 6-4 Big Ten) have played better of late, and they continue to be viewed as an NCAA tournament team.
Coach Richard Pitino said after their 86-75 home victory over Illinois on Wednesday night that the team is coming together at the right time.
“We gritted it out against Penn State, almost had Michigan, played well vs. Iowa and played well [Wednesday],” Pitino said. “We talked a lot about responding, and I thought we responded well.”
• The Twins have put great players and personnel into their Hall of Fame, but none more deserving than Jerry Bell, who will go in this year. Bell not only played a big part in getting Target Field built but was owner Carl Pohlad’s right-hand man and was president during the team’s two championship seasons.
• Pro Football Focus listed its top 50 free agents. At No. 19 was Vikings defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson, and No. 33 was linebacker Anthony Barr. Also on the list was former Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater at No. 31.
• Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins teamed with the USAA and the Wounded Warrior project to give Super Bowl tickets to Staff Sgt. Anthony Craidon.
• Minneapolis native Fred Bryan will be on the field as the umpire for the Super Bowl.
• Many thought Jerryd Bayless was just a throw-in player in the Jimmy Butler trade, but he has filled in nicely with so many other Timberwolves guards hurt. Entering Saturday, he had averaged 15.8 points, 7.6 assists and 4.8 rebounds in his previous five games.
• Former Apple Valley standout Gary Trent Jr. was called up on Saturday by the Portland Trail Blazers. He excelled for Texas of the G League and scored 39 points Friday, including the winning three-pointer in the final second of a 136-133 win over Sioux Falls.
• The Gophers football team and P.J. Fleck are hosting a big event for junior recruits this weekend. Some juniors, such as Minnehaha Academy standout Jalen Suggs, won’t be there because they are playing basketball.
• Speaking of recruits, Matthew Hurt was at Kansas for the Jayhawks’ game with Texas Tech on Saturday. That is Hurt’s fourth official visit. Last weekend, Roy Williams of North Carolina visited him at home. Hurt is averaging 35.7 points per game for Rochester John Marshall.