Check out this excerpt from Scott Studwell’s new book

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Scott Studwell’s name has been synonymous with Minnesota Viking football for over four decades. Since being drafted in the ninth round of the NFL Draft in 1977, Studwell has spent 42 years with the Vikings organization as a player and front office member.

Now he has summarized his experiences with the team in his autobiography, Viking for Life: a four-decade football love story. The book was released very recently, and the publisher has given us permission to share an excerpt from the book with you.

This excerpt from Viking For Life: A Four Decade Football Love Story by Scott Studwell with Jim Bruton is reprinted with permission from Triumph Books. For more information and to order a copy, please visit Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org or TriumphBooks.com/VikingForLife.


CHAPTER TWELVE

Outside the lines

I thought of Bud Grant and the way he was behaving, and a memory came back to me. It was about three to four weeks into my rookie season at Mankato training camp when it happened. Camp had been a chore and I hadn’t spoken to Bud at all – I mean, not a word. There had been no conversation, no meeting, no gesture to get to know each other, nothing at all. He was quite distant, especially with the recruits.

We were in an afternoon practice, in the middle of the field at the south end. Bud was leading the Boy Scout team in training, and for some reason I was standing next to him. Suddenly a butterfly flew over our heads and Bud started talking about the migration of the monarch butterfly. It was an unusual moment, strange to be sure. He was not a man of many words. I wasn’t sure if he was looking to see what I knew about it or what he was doing, but I still had a good lesson on the Monarch’s migration.

I didn’t know what to think. Why on earth would our head coach bring this up in training? I was wondering. I did not understand. He hadn’t said a word to me before this one-sided conversation, and it delayed me a bit because it didn’t make sense to me. I don’t think I said a word in response. I mean, what could I have said? “Yes, Bud, they migrate very well. ” I do not think so. I was speechless.

I never knew what kind of degree Bud got in college, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was in psychology. He understood the people. He knew how to control people’s emotions and temperaments. He knew exactly what to say at the right time to keep his troops in line.

Bud would sometimes take his dog to training on Saturday mornings because fall was hunting season. Wally Hilgenberg also brought his dog, and he was trained so well that he sat in his locker for a few hours. It was another time at another time; everything was a little more relaxed than today.

Jerry Burns was the character of all the characters. Everyone on the team had a “middle name” with Burnsie and it was “Big Nuts”. He would get so excited and carried away that when he spoke on the training ground, in meetings or face to face, he would forget your name. He would stutter and stutter and finally he would call you Big Nuts. It was hilarious. You knew he knew your name, but he got so angry and carried away that he lost it, it was Big Nuts so much. It was a word of affection from Burnsie. He was so colorful. We were sitting across from the offense with a partition separating the meeting rooms and you could hear Burnsie there yelling at the offense. It was funny. They were laughing and we were starting to laugh with them. He was one of the real characters in our company, for sure.

I mean absolutely no disrespect to Burnsie. I loved this man and he was a great football coach, no doubt about it. Former San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh got a lot of credit for the West Coast offense in professional football, but Burnsie led that offense in Iowa and Minnesota long before the emergence of Walsh. He had that flair and ingenuity in him, and the ball control offense was all Jerry Burns.

He was very intelligent, very funny and a great communicator. He was schematically good and a great teacher of the game. He was a great coach and mentor. Some people will remember the character rather than the trainer, but the main thing was that he was very good at his job.

I don’t know why Bud and Jerry got along so well because they were surely different personalities. I think there was a level of trust that they had gained over the years by being together and working together. Even when Bud was coaching in Canada, he asked Jerry to become a consultant and help him with his attack.

I’m sure Jerry was surprised or even hurt when he didn’t get the head coach job after Bud’s first retirement. As a player you’re not really aware of any information regarding this decision – we just had to play with the punches – but I guess he was injured. We, the players, were certainly not consulted on who should get the job.

Despite the way things turned out, he turned around and came back the following year and did a great job as an offensive coordinator under Les Steckels, and eventually became our head coach. I had heard a lot of stories about it, but I’m personally glad he stayed because it paid off for him and for us.

Burnsie was a great guy to work for, even as a defensive player. As the captain and one of the oldest players on the squad, we had a level of trust between us that is probably hard to come by in today’s game. I could go and sit in his office, or he would pull me aside and we could talk about anything. He was one of those guys that the players loved to play for and that we wanted to be successful for.

After I retired, I saw Bud a lot. Bud kept an office at the team’s headquarters in Winter Park and now has one in the new facility. Once Burnsie left the coaching side, he didn’t move around much except for alumni events or special occasions. I haven’t seen Jerry much in recent years, and I know he’s struggled physically, but I know this: his sense of humor is still so keen. I mean, every time I see him – or Rickey Young, a former player – I laugh. They’re both the kind of guy who always has something to say with some sort of edge. They just make me laugh. I don’t think Jerry ever got the credit he deserves as a head coach. I always wished we could win a championship for Burnsie and for Bud too.

I played eight years for Bud, one with Les Steckels and five with Jerry Burns. The year with Steckel has been very difficult, as I mentioned earlier. It was a very unusual year and everyone who was part of the team that year will never forget it. That year with Les was a difficult year for everyone. Not only did we lose Bud, who was the face of the franchise and the program, but along the way with Les, it’s been a miserable season. He almost beat us to submission. By the third or fourth game of the season we were almost done, completely exhausted both mentally and physically.

Just another quick note here on Steckel. Like I said, I loved Les and got on well with him, but his way of doing things was so different from what we were used to, it was hard to buy into it. He was enthusiastic and energetic and wanted him to succeed. I don’t think there was anyone on the team who didn’t want this. But like I said, he made it very difficult for everyone. He changed too much and tried too hard to put his mark on the program, and it didn’t work. It was a grueling training camp and off season and there was live contact almost every day. The first few weeks of the season we were competitive, but then it got worse.

I mentioned Rickey Young as being a real character. Rickey was just one of those colorful guys. He had a smile on his face the whole time. He was a bit of the clever and somewhat mischievous type. He was an easy going guy who got along well with everyone. There is not a bad bone in his body. He was also a very good player on the pitch.

We had a lot of colorful Vikings characters when I was playing. Keith Millard was another real character. He is a very dear friend of mine. He has been a great player for us and has been a coach for a long time. He currently lives in California with his family. He was one of the more colorful characters on our team and somewhat volatile, but in a good way rather than bad.

Floyd Peters was our defensive coordinator when Keith was there, and he knew how to press Keith’s buttons – and Keith knew how to press Floyd’s. And they did from time to time. There were a lot of conversations and jokes between them. They just knew how to put themselves in each other’s shoes.

I remember a Saturday morning when we had a little practice before a game. We were sitting in the meeting room and Floyd was lashing out at Keith. Soon Keith returned to Floyd, and this continued until Keith got up and left the room. He stormed out of the meeting room and left. He got into his car and drove it up a 20 foot embankment, then showed up at the hotel as if nothing had happened. He might flip a switch and get angry. But I’ll say this about Keith: he could flip a switch in a game and become unstoppable. He was a great player and he had years of domination with us.

I had excellent mentors with the Vikings during my playing years. Wally Hilgenberg was a good voice of sanity. He had been in the league for a long time and became a good friend. Jeff Siemon was the starting middle linebacker when I arrived, and while we didn’t spend a lot of time together outside of football, I had enormous respect for both of them and the way they prepared and behaved. . Matt Blair was an exceptional leader, a great player and someone I admired. Even though I was the new kid on the block, they were always there for me to answer questions or help in any way they could. They have always been very professional in their approach.

Jim Marshall was a phenomenal leader and player. He never missed a game. He was always there on Sunday, and he had that aura around him and the wisdom that came with all of his experience. Bud entrusted Jim with the football team, to make sure everyone was on the right track and focused on the task at hand.

There were a lot of veteran players on our football team to emulate. I got to see how they behave on and off the pitch. It was a great time to join a veteran squad, to see how they were working and preparing, and to figure out what I needed to do to get ready to play every Sunday.


Thanks to Scott Studwell, Jim Bruton and the folks at Triumph Books for allowing us to republish this with the exception of the new book. Viking For Life: A Four Decade Football Love Story. If you want to learn more about the history of the Minnesota Vikings from someone who has lived through it a good deal, check out one of the links at the top of the article.


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