Kevin O’Connell and the Vikings are on the hunt. For more victories over the home stretch. For home field advantage. For a playoff appearance. For a playoff victory. For a return to the NFC Championship game.
For a Super Bowl Appearance? For a Super Bowl Victory?
How big do we fans dare to dream about this 9-2 team? They’ve proven they can beat a Super Bowl contender (Bills) while reminding us that they are eminently capable of letting down against said Super Bowl contenders (Eagles, Cowboys) but that they can come right back against quality competition, in prime time no less (Patriots).
If Kevin O’Connell is on the hunt, who better to go hunting with than the most successful coach in Vikings history, and one of the most dedicated hunters in Minnesota, Bud Grant? With the long break between the Thanksgiving victory over New England and Sunday’s Week 13 showdown with the New York Jets, I can imagine the two coaches sneaking away to one of Bud’s favorite outstate Minnesota hunting grounds for some camaraderie, some mentorship, and some big game excitement…
Kevin: Thanks for inviting me out here with you, Bud. Now what are we hunting for exactly?
Bud: You’re welcome, Kevin. We’re hunting deer. Can you walk a little faster please? Try to keep up with me.
Kevin: That’s all I’ve been trying to do since I got this job!
Bud: Ha ha, very funny. You’re doing a nice job of that. 9-2 is a fine start. Now can you run the table and finish the season with just those two losses? That would send a good message to the league, and get you home field in the playoffs.
Kevin: Finish the season with just those two losses? Come on, Bud, that’s a pretty tall order. I’m just trying to manage expectations at this point.
Bud: Stop managing expectations. Stop giving two cents about what everyone else thinks. Just dig down deep, call on your knowledge and your instincts, and do what needs to be done. If you have your squad prepared, and they have the talent the job calls for, the results will follow.
Kevin: Thanks for the advice. Did you ever have a season where you only lost two games?
Bud: Five times, Kevin. Five times in an eight-year stretch.
Kevin: Holy cow, that’s incredible. But listen, Bud, you’ve got to remember I’m a first-year coach. I’m not even 40 years old and I’m running an NFL squad. I gotta tell you, it’s daunting.
Bud (waving a hand dismissively): That’s poppycock, son. You’ve got experience as a player, as a coordinator, you’ve had great mentors, you have all the data and analysis….there’s no reason you and your squad shouldn’t do great things this year. (smiles) Even at your age.
Kevin: Well, sir, there’s a lot of pressure. What with the demands these days, for instant and total success. The press, the fans, it all feels like it’s win a championship or you’re a failure. How did you handle it?
Bud: Handle what?
Kevin: never winning a championship?
Bud (points a finger, menacingly): now you listen here, son—who told you I never won a championship? I won an NBA championship with the Minneapolis Lakers. I won four Gray Cups when I coached Winnipeg in the CFL. I won an NFL Championship in 1969. And my teams were NFC Champions three times.
Kevin: OK, OK, sorry, sir – I didn’t mean to imply….it’s just that….well, I’ve never had that level of success, and, you know, 9-2 is all good and fine but I’m afraid that the mountains are going to get too high, and what if I can’t climb them?
Bud (whispering): Shhhh….there’s a buck. Twelve points. A real beauty. Take him, Kevin.
Kevin (whispering): Take him? What do you mean, take him? You mean shoot him?
Bud (whispering): Yes, shoot him. Aim your rifle, get him in your sight, and give the trigger a soft squeeze.
Kevin (whispering): But he’s so far away….and I’ve never even shot a rifle before – I don’t know how to do this. You take him, Bud.
Bud sighs, lifts his rifle, squeezes off a shot and watches with satisfaction as the buck instantly drops to the ground.
Kevin: Wow. Nice shot.
Bud: Were you scared?
Kevin: Of shooting that deer? N-n-n-no, I just wasn’t confident that I could do the job.
Bud: Not by the deer, son, when you took over the Vikings. As head coach. Were you afraid?
Kevin: Um, no, I was just so gosh darn excited. I had worked hard to get to this point, I interviewed well, and I just wanted it so bad. I was excited, Bud. I wasn’t scared at all.
Bud: What about when I asked you to come hunting with me, were you afraid to come out and shoot a deer?
Kevin: I guess I didn’t think much about that. I just knew I was going to spend a couple of days with a legend of our game, someone who has blazed the trail I want to go down, and who I could really learn from. I didn’t hesitate – I just said yes, and here we are.
Bud: Here we are.
Bud: Listen to me, son. When you’re facing a challenge, and the pressure builds, it’s important to remember how you felt about that challenge right from the start. How you relished the challenge, how you knew that the challenge was the right one for you to face, and how you knew you were prepared for it. The closer it becomes, your focus on the challenge will overshadow your own excitement and usurp your own confidence. When you feel like you can’t…. remember you wanted to, right from the start—and that you wanted to because you knew you could.
There’s a sudden explosive blast, and Kevin holds his rifle, still near his shoulder, with an expression of surprise combined with pride as he looks across the field at a second downed deer, lying thirty yards beyond the first.
Kevin: Got him, Bud! I got him! Um…what was that you were just saying?
Bud: Nothing, Kevin. Just remember, if you can bag a deer on your first trip, you can win a damn championship in your first season.
Josh Frey is a Class of 2020 graduate of The College of Idaho with a bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing. He also earned minors in History, Human Biology, and Journalism. When he’s not writing about the NFL, Josh enjoys marathon training, playing video games, or rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks. For more of his opinions, check out his Twitter account: @Freyed_Chicken.