Pro football legend Bud Grant celebrated his 95th birthday on Friday, but age has not dulled the former coach’s love for Canadian football.
In a recently resurfaced interview with Patrick Reusse of the Minnesota Star-Tribune from earlier this year, Grant shared his opinions on how to improve the NFL game, focusing on the abundance of kneel-downs and the decline of special teams play.
For a solution, he suggests taking a page from the CFL rule book, though he admits that NFL leadership is often resistant to giving their Canadian brethren credit.
“I attended enough meetings to know the NFL wants to avoid admitting Canadian football has a better idea about anything. Yet, they should follow Canada and take away the fair catch,” Grant said. “There’s no fair catch in Canada, but the coverage also has to give the returner 5 yards.
“NFL people hear this and they’ll say, ‘It will increase injuries.’ The 5-yard cushion makes all the difference. My opinion is there won’t be a real increase in injuries, and the punt would become an interesting play.”
Grant is very familiar with the benefits of the CFL return game, having spent more than a decade in the league. He played four seasons as a receiver and defensive back with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers from 1953 to 1956, earning three West Division all-star selections, before taking over as Bombers’ head coach in 1957.
He remained in the position until 1966 and led the team to four Grey Cup titles, earning coach of the year honours in 1965.
Grant was then hired as the head coach of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, serving from 1967 until 1983 and again in 1985. During his tenure, the Vikings won 11 division titles and appeared in four Super Bowls, though they failed to win a championship. He was named NFL coach of the year in 1969.
The Wisconsin native is one of just three people enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Canadian Football Hall of Fame alongside Warren Moon and Marv Levy. A fan of both styles of game, he doesn’t believe the NFL needs to be fixed but does see room for improvement.
“Football is entertainment. And there are things in the NFL that provide no entertainment,” Grant said.
“Why would you want to be watching a game for three hours or more, and then have the last two minutes turn into a quarterback kneeling down? Why would you want to have an outstanding athlete as a punt returner, and 85% of the time, all he’s going to do is fair catch the ball? Worse than that is the kickoff. They have turned that into the most nothing play in football.”
Later in the same interview, Grant bemoaned the fact that his former Vikings’ defensive end Jim Marshall had not been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The iconic member of the “Purple People Eater” defensive line began his career in 1959 as a member of the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
“I would say it’s an injustice that Marshall’s not in the Hall of Fame, but it goes way beyond that,” Grant said.
Many CFL fans agree wholeheartedly with Grant’s assessment of the NFL’s current shortcomings, preferring the wide-open return game and exciting clock rules of the three-down league.
After an off-season in which CFL leadership pointed out every possible flaw with the Canadian game, it is nice to know a pro football legend still thinks the NFL has a thing or two to learn from north of the border.