The Buckhorn Tavern in downtown Gordon, Wis., just east of the railroad tracks, is festooned with the heads of dead deer. One of them wears an atypical rack, a webwork of crazy tines that leap off the main beams like the warped spikes of a railroad in hell. Old beer cans—collectors' items—stand atop the cooler with new beer cans inside. One of Bud's sons is a beer-can collector but that topic wears thin early. Grant munches a California burger, sips at a draft Schlitz. True son of the Progressive states. A photo of Bud Grant, coach, adorns the wall behind the bar under another glassy-eyed deer head.
"I played semipro baseball here after the war," he says. "If you could pitch and hit, too, you could make more money then in the semipros than in the American Association. I pitched three days a week at $50 to $75 a game, and I could hit, too, so that filled in the rest of the week. We barnstormed, as they say. We were the Galloping Gophers. One day I beat Gordon 6-0 and then went down to Rice Lake that night and beat them 7-1. It was a lot of fun."
He's totally relaxed now, feeling the ease of the day, the ease of the outdoors. The small tensions of the bluegills and crappies at the end of the fly tippet seem to have pulled the man out of his hard, cold shell. There is a gentleness of spirit about him, born of the outdoors. A woman, perhaps sensing this, approaches from the bar.
"Hi," she says, "I'm the only Viking fan in western Virginia."
Bud pulls into his shell. He is Coach Grant again.
"That's all Redskin country out there," the woman babbles. "You guys were undefeated when you came out there last year, weren't you? Eight and oh? And then you lost." She smiles, tentatively, sensing the change in his mood. He looks just a mite forbidding now. Eyes like icebergs under a clear sky.
"I don't talk football when I'm up here," he says. "Where you from originally?" She winds down into small-town chitchat, and Bud relaxes. Finally she introduces her husband, Grant gives them a Viking bumper sticker and they go away.
Across the street, Bud stops at the door of the IGA.
"I've got to get some raven food," he says. Then he winks and grins conspiratorially. "It's really dog food," he whispers, "but I tell them it's raven food."
Balance is restored.