From his small office, Bud Grant still can see two of his passions interact: deer frequently drift out of the nearby woods and nibble on the Vikings' practice field. Only the nonfootball forms of wildlife stir him these days.

"I'd seen a lot of coaches go out bitter," Grant said about his decision to make the 1983 Vikings' season his last as a pro coach, after 27 years. "I've left of my own accord all the time."

He meant as a player, with the Philadelphia Eagles in the early '50s, when Chuck Bednarik once lifted him off his feet and shook him, violently, because he'd let the other guys in for a touchdown from the one.

What Grant could not later coax contractually from the Eagles of the NFL he could from Winnipeg of the CFL; at 29, after four seasons as a wide receiver, he became the Blue Bombers' coach.

Those were 10 glorious, if somewhat anonymous, years. Winnipeg won six divisional titles and the Grey Cup four times. During that period, Grant turned down the chance to become the Vikings' first coach, and also the application of an ambitious small-college coach named George Allen.

"I met him at a coaches' convention (in the late '50s)," Grant recalled. "He had a scheme to revolutionize Canadian football, an offense they couldn't stop. The bigger field, men in motion. He'd worked all that out."

Allen as an offensive fireball was a startling revelation, his idea of razzle-dazzle with the Redskins usually having been confined to play-action strategy that could be found on cornflakes boxes.

Anyway, Allen's interview with Grant went poorly.

"He just came on a little too strong," Grant said. "But I'm sure he'd have done a good job. Probably taken my job."

Grant's granite face began to crack ever so slightly, as it does when he unsheathes that dry wit and stings the pretentious. Such as Hank Stram, the Dallas Cowboys, even the NFL itself.

It's cold up here, Grant and his teams constantly reminded everyone, but our minds don't freeze. And although his record his last six years was exactly .500, Grant was 151-87-5 with the Vikings and made the Super Bowl four times.

Counting his record in Canada, Grant trails only George Halas in professional victories, 283 to 326. One of his oddest, and saddest, experiences in coaching came in Canada.

Grant had perhaps his finest Winnipeg team in the Grey Cup final again, and had only to execute a couple of quarterback sneaks to win by the bizarre score of 2-1.

"It was like 10 below," he said. "We played at night in those days, which made it worse. Ground was frozen solid; wind blowing so strong that you had trouble standing up and couldn't pass. All you could do was kick.

"So it's 2-1 (when the teams could not advance the ball out of their end zones three times), and I remember standing on the sideline thinking, 'Nobody is going to believe this.'

"With maybe 30 seconds to go, all we needed to do was run the clock out. But our quarterback had broken a bone in his left wrist the week before, in the (best-of-three) game we'd won.

"We'd sat him out the game we lost, then brought him back for the third game. He had a leather kind of cast-support. First time on the quarterback sneak, he was pelted. Thrown to the ground. Next time, he tried to move to his left a little bit."

Big mistake.

"A guy came in from the side," Grant said, "and knocked the ball loose. They picked it up and ended up kicking a field goal with no time on the clock to win, 4-2. Which is almost as bad as 2-1."

On and away from the sideline, Grant had the gait of a Southwest sheriff who demanded that hell-raisers off a cattle drive check their guns before charging into town.

One clue about priorities came when he was late for the caravan to his first Vikings training camp. Blushing, he said he was fixing his son's bike and had lost track of time.

"I was relieved," General Manager Jim Finks said, "that it wasn't the lawnmower."

Grant organized the national anthem drill before putting in a punt return for the Vikings. He is naturally quiet, but fussed with players in private for a reason:

"A former basketball coach told me never to chew out a player in front of his friends and teammates. It was embarrassing to him, when you didn't have to do that. Besides, you might be wrong."

Grant's teams nearly always were the last to begin training camp, the last to arrive both at the site of a game and the game itself. Discipline and common sense got him through parts of four decades of social change.

"You're dealing with a lot of bright people in football," he said, "with great imagination. It's a boring game to practice, and bright people have a tough time with that.

"It's not like hockey or basketball (which he played with the NBA champion Minneapolis Lakers) or baseball, where you go out and practice what you really do.

"Throwing and catching are about all you do in football practice that simulates the game (because full-contact blocking and tackling each day would break bodies and spirits)."

So Grant tolerated characters, grown men who sometimes came to camp dressed as World War I flying aces or often launched frogs in home-made rockets.

When Jim Marshall once sent up a three-stage creation that quickly fluttered back to earth, Dale Hackbart growled: "I can remember (Joe) Kapp's passes going higher than that."

Kapp's passes were ridiculed more than Billy Kilmer's. With Kilmer, defensive backs could flip a coin to determine who would make the interception; with Kapp, there was time for two out of three.

Grant said he forgot victories more quickly than losses, but that he has buried from easy memory most of the galling Super Bowl setbacks. He beat Vince Lombardi for his first NFL victory and slickered Allen in a trade that fetched the draft rights to Alan Page.

It had been grand, Grant realized at the end of last season, but time to move on. All but one of his six children had been put through school; his life style always had been well under his income.

"If you don't suffer," he said, "there's something the matter with you. It bothered me to see guys walk out of the locker room laughing after a loss. But losing isn't like George said, like death. You can come back."

Retirement is not something he'd planned, for years or even months. It was an annual option that finally seemed appealing.

Pictures of hunting and hunters abound in his office (the Vikings list Grant as a "consultant"), and he says: "It was time to get away from all the structure, the one-dimensional thing that a football coach becomes."