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But there are still questions to be asked, questions to be answered. In the framework of this land and this mood, it is doubtful that anything like a clear-cut resolution can be effected. The land, after all, was clear-cut long before these questions became imperative or even, for that matter, questionable.
The Old Oak Bar, an aging "motel" fraught with cabinettes and defective light bulbs, hunkers on a bluff overlooking the junction of the St. Croix and Eau Claire rivers just east of Gordon. Bob and Rita Tyman, the proprietors, have added a modern, indoor swimming pool and a bar that gleams with booze bottles and the noses of steady boozers.
Bud Grant is shooting a stick of pool—eight ball's the game—with a local schoolteacher named John Murray. A young man, Murray is pretending not to be awed by the presence of this TV celebrity, this name, this coach of an NFL team. Grant, by the same token, knowing that deep inside he is none of those things, is merely trying to be a local who happens to be shooting a stick of eight ball. If it weren't so poignant, it would be funny.
Squitch, squitch—the chalk. Click, clunk—the balls sinking. Click, click—a miss. Tinkle, glug—another drink gone. Bob Tyman pours and walks over, trying to hide the grin. He's serving Bud Grant. His wife Rita had seen Grant one day at the store. "He actually talked to the kids," she later reported with awe—a kind of touching awe, because it was so unnecessary. "No, they didn't dare ask him about football."
At the dinner table, after Grant won the pool game, the question arises as it must have lo these many months. What about the Staubach bomb? The 50-yard desperation pass to Drew Pearson that put the Cowboys in the 1976 Super Bowl and relegated the Vikings once again to also-rans?
An indefensible pass?
"No," says Grant. "There's really no such thing. There are passes and there are coverages, you know that. But we saw some film later that showed something very interesting about that pass. Something really professional. Pearson was down there but he wasn't open. Just as the ball is arriving—and it was a darn fine pass, right on the money—just then Nate Wright gets up in front of the ball. You can see him clear, his hands are cupped over his belly to take the interception. His eyes are all bugged out, focused on the ball—he's darn near got it. And then Pearson gives him this little shove on the hip. With his hand. Just a little shove, so that Nate moves away from the ball, up there in the air like he is, and the ball sticks in the crook between Pearson's elbow and his hip."
Grant looks down at the fried walleyed pike on a plate across the table. Shakes his head. Smiles again.
" Pearson had been a basketball player. That was a basketball player's move—that shove on the hip, where the ref couldn't see it. Not something obvious like a wild-eyed football player would do, not a wild lunge at the shoulders that you could call offensive interference. But a real smart basketball player's move. A professional move."
It would be absurd to ask if Grant thought it fair or foul. The answer lies in the tone of voice—a tone of professional respect. No whining here, just a shrug of the shoulders.