The maroon Country Squire station wagon rumbles down a tote road toward Miles Lake, the aluminum boat lashed to the roof and the rods, vests, motor and waders inside creaking a strange, ravenlike chorus. The talk has drifted back to football, particularly to new coaching appointments.
"It's a shame Hank Stram didn't get the New York job," Grant is saying. "Hank would have been in his element in the Big Apple, or whatever they call it. I've always thought he would have made a perfect gangster." He pauses, remembering perhaps that it was Stram's Kansas City Chiefs who handed him his first Super Bowl loss, and that perhaps the words might be misconstrued. "He's a fine coach, don't get me wrong, a great coach. But he'd rather con you than beat you fair and square."
In 1970, the year of the Chiefs-Vikings Super Bowl, Grant is reminded, Hank Stram had a backfield full of pint-sized running backs—Mike Garrett, Robert Holmes, Warren McVea, none of whom topped 5'10". He claimed that small running backs were the wave of the future. They were too small to be seen behind the massive pulling guards who led the way on sweeps, and quick enough to exploit the fast-closing holes. It sounded like good logic at the time.
"Sure," says Grant. "That was all he could get—those little guys. The best he could get, anyway. And he did extremely well with the material at hand, which is what any really good coach does. But Hank surrounded it with a...how do they call it? A mystique. He's a very good coach, one of the best ever, but he's a sharpie."
"Well," Grant continues, pulling the wagon to a halt at the side of a small, clear, pine-ringed lake, " New Orleans will be good for Hank. He can build again, and that's what he does so well. He's apparently got unlimited money, a good plant, plenty of talent and some very responsive fans. He's going to do well down there. But he could have really had some fun in New York."
Boat unslung, motor rigged, fly rods armed and ready, Grant chugs along the lakeshore, watching closely for fishy action. A few bass angle away under the bowwave. Bluegills fin over their circular, washed-sand nests. The sky hangs ever closer, promising rain but not quite delivering. A quarter of the way around the lake, Grant runs the bow of the boat up on the bank. From here on, it will be wading and casting, wading and casting. Slow, steady, careful stalking. He threads the tippet through the eye of a tiny pan-fish popper.
"What do you call it when you can't get the line through this little eyelet?" he asks, a lopsided grin behind his long, outstretched arms.
"You call the eye doctor," says somebody who knows. The anguish of reading glasses after 40 years of better-than-perfect vision is a small corner on hell. But Grant casts fluently, easily, with the practiced eye of a man who has known the fly rod from boyhood. He hangs bluegills, small bass, crappies, releasing most of them gently, keeping a few of the bigger ones. "My kids are coming tomorrow and I want to give them a fish fry," he says. "Gosh, they eat a lot." The double taper snicks; the bug falls. Blurp! Another bluegill, this one the size of a salad plate. "They're a fine fish, a strong fish," says Bud as he watches the rod tip bend. "If you could breed them up to 20 or 30 pounds, they'd be the best fish in the world."
Now, with a few fish bulging in the wire-mesh, belt-hung fish bags, the talk swings back to football, and Grant reminisces. "No, I was never really an All-America at Minnesota. Second string. They only picked 11 guys in those days, the late '40s. You had to go both ways. Leo Nomellini was a teammate of mine, and he was a real All-America. But, whatever, I was the first draft choice of the Philadelphia Eagles. They offered me $7,500. I decided to play pro basketball instead, with the Minneapolis Lakers up in the Twin Cities." He hooks and plays a fair-sized crappie, eases out the hook, studies the fish, bags it. "After about two years of basketball I figured that was no way to make a living and I went back to football. Well, I was two years older, so the Eagles knocked $500 off of my price tag." He shakes his head and casts—snick, plop. "I'd been the 12th draft pick when I went into the National Basketball Association. I'd sure like to be the 12th pick now, with the money they're getting."
On the way back to the landing, a red-tailed hawk flies overhead. Grant watches it out of sight. He smiles again, that rara avis. "I woke up the other morning and there was a lot of squawking down at the dock. Stuck my head out of the window. A red-tail was shucking a mallard down there, right on the bank of my lake. He stared right back at me. One of my mallards. Oh, they're a damn fine bird, the red-tail."