Bud Grant sits as a small table at the top of his driveway, signing one autograph after another, 25 dollars at a time. Each visitor to his annual garage sale in Bloomington has a story, wants a picture and wants to share a memory with him.
After three days of doing that time and again – probably easily over 1,000 times over the three days – you might think the Pro Football Hall of Fame coach would be tired of it. But this is Bud Grant. He doesn’t tire easily and if he did it might show weakness. Grant, of course, never liked showing signs of weakness, whether that was patrolling the sidelines of frigid Metropolitan Stadium for the Minnesota Vikings or at the top of his driveway 30 years later.
He teases a young couple about wearing stock caps in May. They had good reason with Friday morning’s temperatures in the 40s. The next man through the autograph line is wearing a t-shirt and the Ol’ Trapper teases him, too, only this time for the short sleeves on a cold day.
“He loves doing it. He’ll be 90 years old tomorrow, but he can sit in his car and drive 13 hours to Saskatchewan in one sitting,” says Chad Ostlund, a former Vikings employee who helps with the garage sale and also coached with Bud’s son, Mike, at Eden Prairie High School for 25 years. “… It’s three days of go, go, go.”
It most certainly is.
Each of the three days plays out similarly. An hour or two before the sale officially opens, the fans line up. On Wednesday afternoon, they endured a long downpour to chill the bones. But in Grant’s disciplined world, there is no entering the sale early and no bartering to lower the prices. If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it. Someone else will.
Year after year, the items keep coming. From Grant’s basement in the house he has owned since his coaching days. From the cars of helpers. From friends of Grant that either worked for the Vikings or shared his passion for the outdoors. And plenty from the family.
“You get older, you’ve got a lot of stuff,” Grant says while taking a short timeout that he called (when he walks back outside, the line for his autograph has swelled again). “Remember, I’ve got six kids, 19 grandchildren, 10 great grandchildren and two in the hopper, and they all live within an hour of here. It’s an accumulation. It’s my garage sale and my residence, but it’s a family kind of affair.”
The items reflect that. Many are from his football days, from vintage jackets and t-shirts from the Vikings and his prior employer, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, to hunting rifles and mounts of fish.
“When you grow older, you have that thing hanging on the wall and you look at it and you enjoy it and pretty soon you replace it with something else and you put it behind the furnace,” he said. “The garage sale is one way to do something with it. Sometimes you don’t really miss it after it’s gone.”
This year’s big draw is a bobble head of Grant holding a duck and standing next to his beloved late black lab named Boom.
He had 150 of them made in China, but even a Bud Grant bobble head has to be licensed with the NFL and those licensing issues prevented the full stock of them from arriving on time for the sale. He rationed the 50 that were air shipped throughout the three days, but they were gobbled up quickly.
“We allotted some for today and they’re gone and we were passing out numbers because people want them,” said one of his daughters, Kathy Fritz, who was working a nearby table.
Those that didn’t arrive in Minnesota before the sale were pre-ordered in Grant’s driveway and will be shipped to the buyers after they arrive and are autographed.
“Somebody else came up with the bobble head,” Bud said. “That’s a different kind of bobble head. It’s got Boom in there and I’ve got my duck in here too. If you look at the eyes, if you were to paint those you’d never get both of those looking the same way. … I think they did a great job.”
Grant was clearly impressed with the quality and consistency of the bobble head, all the way down to reading the name tag on Boom. (He now has another black lab in training named Deuce that kept watch on the garage sale from his fenced-in back yard.)
“When they wanted to do [a bobble head] over the years I was never big on them. They said last chance, and I said, ‘Well, I’ll only do it if I can have my dog in there. Originally I had a gun that I had over my shoulder, but this is NFL [-licensed] and they said, ‘No. No gun.’ I said, ‘Why not? You live in New Jersey and you have a different perception of a gun than I’ve got. You think about a gun as shooting people. I’ve got a gun that shoots birds and deer and stuff like that.’ The gun, [the NFL] didn’t like that idea so I substituted a duck.”
Grant remains an avid hunter. He just returned from a turkey hunting trip in Nebraska and then Minnesota, then went to consecutive fishing openers in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
This year, Grant’s garage sale also featured two to three dozen duck decoys that were painted in Vikings colors with the Vikings horn on the side, including one that was remote controlled.
“Those went like crazy,” Ostlund said. “The bobblehead, the first day they were pushing and shoving so people could get it. It was like when they release a new toy at the store and everyone wants it and they think it’s going to be the last one.”
For many, it’s more about the autograph and the chance to interact with the Hall of Fame coach and Grant knows it.
“People just want to come and meet him,” Ostlund said. “How often do you get to go to a coach or player’s house and have them sign something and talk to them? Nothing against Eddie Lacy, but he had his sale but he wasn’t there – he just had people run it.”
Ostlund was told by friends in Green Bay that Lacy actually had for sale some of the free Vikings items he got when he made a free-agent visit to Minnesota in March. Oh, the irony!
One person at Grant’s sale brought dozens of seats from Met Stadium and the Metrodome that were hot sellers.
Grant believes many people probably get his autograph and stick in a drawer somewhere in their house. That’s unlikely, given the passion of the fans, but clearly they relish the chance to talk with Grant and have their picture taken with him.
“If you ask him if he enjoys the fan interaction and so on, he has gotten so much more social,” says Darcy Smith, who works for the estate-sale company that runs the garage sale.
One of Grant’s friends who used to live in Alaska had a custom-painted Hurricane boat for sale that featured Vikings artwork. The going price? $39,995. That same friend had a Vikings-themed dune buggy for $9,995.
Most of the other items were more Grant’s speed – Vikings and Super Bowl apparel, hunting and fishing items, and plenty from the family that put in so much work into making the sale happen for another year.
While Grant took his timeout to talk, Smith rushed in with more items to autograph. This time it was newly arriving artwork of Grant. Someone in another room was tallying up receipts from the previous day. The family was in force, looking to make successful what has to be the most popular personal garage sale in Minnesota.
It seems each year could be the last, but next year there will be more items and Grant seems open to the idea of doing it again. But the whole family and those in charge of the sale know the work involved.
“Ask me and I would say three years ago we were done,” Smith says. “It’s like a colonoscopy. The preparation sucks, the actual days of the sale are fun because it’s like you’re drugged and you don’t feel a thing.”