Bill Belichick will break the record for Super Bowl appearances today when his Patriots face off against the Falcons. It will be Belichick’s seventh appearance, surpassing Don Shula’s six games. Those two, along with Tom Landry, who coached in five Super Bowls, are the only coaches to have appeared in the game more than Bud Grant, who reached four Super Bowls leading the Vikings in the 1960s and 70s.
Grant said reaching the Super Bowl is never a given for any coach, no matter what they think of their team.
“You never know. There’s too many things that can happen during the season, and the Vikings found that out [this] year,” Grant said about the team’s 5-0 start that descended into a .500 season. “It gets down to the end, now this year the two best teams are in there, no question about it.”
Grant said that his first Super Bowl team, which lost 23-7 to the Kansas City Chiefs in January 1970 at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans, was a good example of how hard it is to reach a title — the Vikings went 12-2 that season — and how the small moments in the Super Bowl decide everything.
“We had a very good team, but we also played a very good team in Kansas City, also,” Grant said. “It’s hard to compare eras, I mean that was a little bit different than it is today. The teams are better overall, the whole league is better, better players than we had, but we played a very good Kansas City team.
“We came back the next year and played them the first game of the season and beat them handily. So you know again, winner takes all, they had a good team, they made some good plays, we made some mistakes and you call that football.
“You can’t beat everybody all the time. Kansas City had a good team and we beat them the next year. The same thing happened with Miami and Oakland, we beat them down the line, but we didn’t beat them in a Super Bowl, and that’s what counts.”
Looking back at key plays
The Vikings didn’t reach another Super Bowl until January 1974, when they faced the Dolphins in Houston, the same host city as this year. Both teams went 12-2 in the regular season.
“I can remember incidents that happened during the game that turned the game around,” Grant said 43 years later. “The second-half kickoff we ran back around the 9-yard line and it was a close game, but they brought the ball back on a questionable pushing-in-the-back call.
“Then they were down at our goal line and we stopped them on third down, but they called a penalty on Wally Hilgenberg [for a late hit on Larry Csonka]. They scored a touchdown. They had another play. Three plays could have determined the game, and that’s what happens in football. We were good enough to win, but we didn’t win on that day [Miami won 24-7].”
The Vikings returned to the Super Bowl the following season, but in January 1975 again at Tulane they faced one of the best teams in NFL history in the Pittsburgh Steelers and lost 16-6.
“I don’t know that [they were] the best — I don’t like that word,” Grant said. “They were a very good team. We played them in the rain down in New Orleans and it was a lousy kind of game and nobody did much of anything.
“I know we got a couple of penalties — and I keep going back to that, but a lot of times those are the things that decide the game. Penalties, big plays, the things you can’t practice. You can’t practice fumbles, penalties, interceptions and turnovers. They got a couple of good breaks and they won the game. It was not a good game, a lousy game, neither team played very well, but when the game ended they were ahead.”
One last chance
Grant’s last appearance in the Super Bowl was in January 1977 at the Rose Bowl against the Oakland Raiders, whom NFL.com named the greatest team in league history with their 13-1 record. The Vikings had gone 11-2-1 and at the time were the first franchise to reach four Super Bowls.
“They had a very good team,” Grant said. “Our team was not as good as the other three [Super Bowl] teams. I think some of our players had gotten a little bit older and we weren’t quite as dominant a team when we played Oakland.
“But again, we drove down [on one of] the first series of the game and I remember Brent McClanahan carried it and was going to go for a touchdown and somebody stripped the ball, they got the ball back, and they went on to win the game. They won handily at the end [32-14]. But if we scored that touchdown, maybe got a break or two, we could have possibly won against a team that was a better team than we were at that time.”
Still there’s no disputing that few coaches in NFL history understand what it takes to get to the Super Bowl, and how hard it can be to win the big game, more than Grant. And he said he will happily watch the game Sunday.
“I’ll watch with interest. I don’t have anything to do with anything more, but like anybody else I’m a fan now,” he said. “I enjoy watching the game, maybe more from having coached the game, maybe seeing it a little bit different than the average fan, but still I enjoy it. The players are getting better all the time. You know the football is better now than it has ever been.”
• I wonder where Bill Belichick would be if he had accepted the job as defensive coordinator with the Vikings in 1984, when Les Steckel was coach. I recall interviewing Belichick, then a Giants assistant, and he was offered the job, but he turned it down because his wife was pregnant.
• Free agent Cordarrelle Patterson recently said on a podcast that he would love to play running back for the Vikings, noting the success that the Packers had in making wide receiver Ty Montgomery into a running back this season. It would be an interesting option for the Vikings, who currently have Adrian Peterson on the books for $18 million in 2017. In his four-year career with the Vikings, Patterson has 31 carries for 333 yards and four touchdowns .
• Eden Prairie native and University of Minnesota graduate Todd Downing was recently named Oakland Raiders offensive coordinator, replacing former Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, who was let go by coach Jack Del Rio, the former Vikings linebacker. Downing, who had been Raiders quarterbacks coach, got his start in coaching as an assistant for Eden Prairie in 1999 and then worked with the Vikings as a football systems analyst and offensive quality control coach for three years. Also of note is that former Vikings coach Mike Tice will remain with Oakland as offensive line coach.
• I have gotten to know Kevin Warren very well over his 12 seasons as Vikings chief operating officer. On Saturday, Warren was recognized as an NFL pioneer for being the highest-ranking African-American on the business side of an NFL team. If anyone deserves such an award and recognition, it is him.
• Not since Tyus Jones has a Minnesota basketball recruit been as highly targeted as Rochester John Marshall’s Matthew Hurt, ranked as the sixth-best player in the Class of 2019. On Jan. 14, North Carolina coach Roy Williams and one of his assistants flew to Rochester to see Hurt play, only hours after the Tar Heels beat Florida State.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. on Monday and Friday and Sundays at 9:30 a.m. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org