"I don't drink coffee," he says, dead-cool, "and don't even have any on the premises, or else I'd offer you some. But come in anyway."
A black Labrador bitch named Sheila wags at the door, sharp contrast to her master. The living room of the cabin is shipshape and Bristol fashion. A wood-carved owl stares from the mantel near a ceramic horse and an iron eagle. A primitive painting of brook trout, executed in 1890 by an early federal game warden to these parts, shares wall space with a painting of the northern lights, courtesy of an Eskimo artist Grant met during his Canadian Football League days. On another wall hangs a mounted white crappie, gigantic, maybe four pounds when it was alive. Grant took it from the lake. "But that was a while ago," he says. On another wall is a deer tail on a shield. A plaque reads: WORLD RECORD. MISSED NOVEMBER 27, 1958.
In the absence of coffee, the visitor makes do with " Milwaukee orange juice," the local euphemism for early morning beer. The coach relaxes in a chair by the window, a pair of 7x35 binoculars close at hand in case something of natural interest should appear in the watery, piney vista. He wears a plaid shirt, green cotton workman's trousers and scuffed Orvis oxfords over sweat socks. He looks very lean, very clean, very strong and healthy. He turned 49 just a few weeks earlier.
"When I got out of the Navy after the war," he says, "I had $300 to my name. I spent $100 of it on an Ithaca 12-gauge pump gun, another $100 on clothes and then came out here to Gordon with a friend of mine to spend the summer and see what we could see. My folks are from these parts—my dad was born on an Indian reservation just north of here, and my grandparents came out with Paul Bunyan, or at least when the railroad went through. I met a guy in a saloon in town who was the executor of an estate. He offered me these 60 acres with 1,500 feet of lake frontage for $1,500. My pal and I had only $200 between us, but our fathers took notes for us and we got the property. Later I bought my friend out, and in 1969, after all those years of football, I built the cabin. I've done some dumb things in my life, that's for sure, but this was one of the...well, luckiest things I ever did."
Nothing in the house says football. On the shelves are bound volumes of Outing Magazine, circa 1904, MacKinlay Kantor's Valley Forge, Fawn Brodie's
Thomas Jefferson, an Intimate History, a collection of American drama, Ronald Clark's biography of Albert Einstein.... Wait a minute! There, tucked away almost out of sight, is Paul Zimmerman's The Last Season of Weeb Ewbank
. How's that?
"Weeb coached at Great Lakes, under Paul Brown, when I was there during the war," Grant explains. " Blanton Collier was also one of Paul's assistants. I was just a big, dumb 18-year-old playing with this, well, superteam. I hate that word, but that was about as close to super as you could have come in those days. Imagine a football coach in wartime with all the power of the service behind him. That's the closest to an angry, Old Testament Jehovah that you're ever going to find. I'd been a fullback in high school over in Superior, Wis. but then, at Great Lakes, I saw Marion Motley. He was the biggest thing I'd seen that didn't move on wheels. I don't know—maybe he did. But I quickly told them that I was an end, not a fullback.
"We worked out twice a day, three hours a session, and we loved it. It was the greatest prep school a football player could have hoped for. Brown was very strict." He looks at the beer in his visitor's hand. "Strict rules against drinking. I remember one guy came in for practice one morning hung over. Paul conferred with the other coaches and then called the man over. 'It is the opinion of myself and the other coaches that you were drinking last night,' he said. 'That being the case, I would like you to go away from me. Faraway.' By the time the guy got back to the barracks, his orders had been cut. To the Pacific. Was that an example? The rest of us were afraid to sneeze."
The ravens are back, flapping at the window and peering in anxiously at Grant. He goes to the kitchen and returns with a dog bowl full of chow. "The pulp cutters found them back in the woods last April," he says. "I guess you could say I rescued them. That might help correct my image as a vicious slayer of birds and fish and animals. Anyway, they hang around here stealing anything shiny they can find lying loose and hiding it from me or from one another. Sometimes they fly around the house, on the outside, following me from room to room, peeking in the windows to see what I'm up to."
One of the birds perches on Grant's shoulder, taking food from his hand and croaking in his ear in a familiar manner—one that even Fran Tarkenton would never assume. The other remains on the ground. It has a game leg. "No, I don't give them names. That's too sappy. They don't have names in nature, and if you give them names and they die, then you feel bad. But the one with the bum leg we call 'Crip.' "
All around the property lie the tools of Grant's off-season trade. In the clean, well-lighted basement, stacks of guns, rods and fishing tackle. At the floating dock and on the neatly mowed lawn, canoes, skiffs, a johnboat and a big ski boat. And in the garage, a brace of trail bikes on which Grant and his four sons, who range in age from nine to 21, course the woods and streams in search of sport. His daughters, ages 23 and 25, are both special-education teachers working with handicapped children. "They're all good kids," says Grant. "And my wife Pat is a darned good cook. Now if we can catch some fish today, she'll be up tomorrow and show you how to eat them."