The Scott Stadwell name has been synonymous with football for the Minnesota Vikings for over four decades. Since being drafted into the ninth round of the 1977 NFL Draft, Studwell has spent 42 years as part of the Vikings 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 Affair. The book was recently released, and we have obtained permission from the publisher to share an excerpt from the book with you.
This is an excerpt from Vikings for Life: A love affair with football for four decades By Scott Stadwell with Jim Broughton Reprinted with permission from Triumph Books. For more information and to request a copy, please visit Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org, or TriumphBooks.com/VikingForLife.
outside the lines
I was thinking about Bud Grant and the way he carries himself, and a memory came to me. It was about three to four weeks into the junior season, at training camp in Mankato, when that happened. The camp was tough and I didn’t talk to Bud at all – I mean, I didn’t say a word. There were no conversations, no meetings, no gestures to get to know you, and absolutely nothing. He was very aloof, especially with the beginners.
We were for afternoon practice, in the center field at the south end. Bud used to run the scouting team in training, and for some reason I was standing next to him. Suddenly a butterfly flew over our heads and a bud started talking about the migration of the monarch. It was an unusual and certainly strange moment. He was not a very talkative man. I didn’t know if he was looking to see what I knew about him or what he was doing, but I had a good lesson on monarch butterfly migration.
I didn’t know what to think. Why the hell would our soccer coach put this into practice? I wonder. I do not understand. He hadn’t uttered a word to me before this one-sided conversation, and it held me back a little because it didn’t make sense to me. I can’t believe I said a single word in response. I mean what can I say? “Yeah Bud, they migrate well.” I do not think so. I was left speechless.
I never knew what kind of degree Budd got in college, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was psychology. People have understood. He knew how to control people’s emotions and moods. He knew exactly what to say in time to keep his troops in line.
Bud would sometimes bring his dog to practice on Saturday mornings because fall was hunting season. Wally Helgenberg was also going to bring his dog, and he was so well trained that it would sit in his locker for a few hours. It was a different time in a different era. Everything was a little more relaxed than it is today.
Jerry Burns was the character of all the characters. Everyone on the team had a “middle name” with Bernie and that was the “big nuts”. He’ll be so excited and go so far that when he’s talking in training, in meetings, or face to face, he’ll forget your name. He would stutter and stutter and eventually call you big nuts. It was hilarious. You knew he knew your name, but he worked so much and got so carried away that he lost it – so were the big nuts as well. It was a term endearing to Bernie. It was very colourful. We were sitting on the other side of the ticket with a divider dividing the conference rooms and you could hear Bernie screaming about the ticket. It was a comedy. They would laugh and then we start laughing with them. He was one of the real characters in our work, that’s for sure.
I mean absolutely no respect towards Bernie. I loved the guy and he was a great football coach, no doubt about that. Bill Walsh, the former head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, took a lot of credit for the West Coast offensive in professional football, but Berenice managed that attack in Iowa and Minnesota long before Walsh made an appearance. He had that flair and ingenuity about him, and ball control offense was all Jerry Burns.
He was very smart, very funny, and a great communicator. He was good schematically and an excellent teacher of the game. He was a wonderful coach and teacher. Some people will remember the character rather than the coach, but the bottom line is he was very good at his job.
I don’t know why Budd and Jerry got along so well because they are definitely two different personalities. I think there has been a level of trust that they have gained over the years from working together and working together. Even when Budd was training in Canada, he would ask Jerry to come in as a counselor and help with their attack.
I’m sure Jerry was surprised or even hurt when he didn’t get the head coaching job after Bud retired the first time. Being a player you’re not privy to any of that decision – we just had to deal with punches – but I think he got hurt. We players certainly haven’t been consulted about who should get the job.
Despite the way things unfolded, he turned around and came back the following year and did a great job as an offensive coordinator under Les Steckel, eventually becoming our head coach. I’ve heard so many stories about it all, but personally I’m glad it stayed because it paid off for us and for us.
Bernie was a great guy to work with, even if he was a defensive player. Being a captain and one of the older players on the team, we had a level of trust between us that is probably hard to find in today’s game. I can go and sit in his office, or he pulls me aside and we can talk about anything. He was one of those players that the players loved to play for and for whom we wanted to be successful.
After my retirement, I was seeing a little bad. Budd maintained an office at the team’s headquarters in Winter Park and now has an office in the new facility. Once Bernie left the coaching side, he didn’t show up much, except for alumni or special events. I haven’t seen much of Jerry in the past couple of years, and I know he’s gone through it physically, but I know this: His sense of humor is still as sharp as ever. I mean, every time I see him — or I see Ricky Young, an ex-player — I start laughing. They are both the type of guys who always have something to say with some sort of edge. They just make me laugh I don’t think Jerry gets the credit he deserves as a head coach. I’ve always wished we’d win a championship for Bernie – and Budd too.
She played eight years with Bud, one with Les Steckel, and five years with Jerry Burns. The year with Steckel has been very difficult, as I mentioned earlier. It was a very unusual year that no one who was on the team that year will forget. It was a difficult year for everyone. Not only did we lose Bud, who was the face of the franchise and the show, but along the way with Les, the season was miserable. He could beat us into submission. By the third or fourth game of the season, we were almost done, completely exhausted mentally and physically.
Just another quick note here on Steckel. Like I said, I liked Lis and got along with him, but his way of doing things was very different from the way we are used to, which made it hard to buy. He was enthusiastic and energetic and I wanted him to make it work. I don’t think there was anyone on the team who didn’t want that. But like I said, it made it very difficult for everyone. He changed a lot and tried really hard to put his stamp on the program, and it didn’t work out. It was a hard off season camp and training and there was direct contact almost every day. In the first few weeks of the season we were competitive but then we started to fall back from there.
You mentioned that Ricky Young is a real person. Ricky was just one of those colorful guys. He had a smile on his face the whole time. He was kind of clever and somewhat sinister. He was a simple guy who had a way with everyone. There is no bone in his body. He was also a good player on the court.
We had a lot of colorful characters on Vikings during the time I played. Keith Millard was another real character. He is a very dear friend of mine. He’s been a great player for us and has been in the coaching business for a long time, and currently lives in California with his family. He was one of the most colorful characters we had on our team and a bit fickle – but in a good way, not a bad way.
Floyd Peters was the defensive coordinator when Keith was there, and he knew how to push Keith’s buttons – and Keith knew how to push Floyd’s buttons. And they did that from time to time. There was a lot of chatter and joking between them. They just knew how to get at each other’s skin.
I remember one Saturday morning when we had a light workout before the game. We were sitting in the conference room and Floyd was kind of picking at Keith. Soon Keith started again at Floyd, and it continued until Keith got up and walked out of the room. He got out of the conference room and went. He got into his car and drove it over a 20-foot bank, then later showed up at the hotel as if nothing had happened. He can flip the switch and get upset. But I will say this about Keith: He can flip the switch in a game and become unstoppable. He was a great player and he spent some years controlling with us.
I had some great guides with the Vikings during my playing days. Wally Helgenberg was the voice of good reason. He’s been in the league for a long time and has become a good friend. Jeff Simon was the heart of the number one linebacker when I arrived, and although we didn’t spend much time together outside of football, I had a lot of respect for both of them and how they prepared and carried themselves. Matt Blair was an outstanding captain and an excellent player and I admire him. 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 an exceptional captain and player. He never missed a match. He was always there on Sundays, and he had that aura about him—and the wisdom that came with all his experience. Budd entrusted Jim with the soccer team, to make sure everyone walks straight, tight, and focused on the task at hand.
There were plenty of seasoned players on our soccer team to follow suit. I was able to see how they carried themselves on and off the field. It’s been a great time to join a veteran team, to see how they’re working and getting ready and to figure out what I need to do to get ready to play every Sunday.
Thanks to Scott Studwell, Jim Broughton, and the folks at Triumph Books for letting us republish this except for the new book. Vikings for Life: A love affair with football for four decades. If you’d like to get more insights into the history of the Minnesota Vikings from someone who has lived a bit of it, check it out at one of the links at the top of the post.