Spend a few minutes over the phone with Merrigan, now in her 70s, and you’ll quickly recognize the spunk and character that drove her letter to Grant. She laughed at hearing that her letter remained in the coach’s office, and in hearing her words read back to her over the phone, she claimed surprise at not including more specific critique of Tommy Kramer.
“I didn’t talk about his dancing feet?” She questioned. “I’m surprised, because that’s what always irritated me about him. It’s like, ‘Geez – drop back, count three and throw.’ ”
Merrigan fondly recalled her school-teaching days in Wisconsin and in Lincoln, Nebraska. While most teachers would look on from the safety of the sidewalk during recess football games, Merrigan regularly joined in the rowdiness – and occasionally paid the price.
“I dislocated my left shoulder in Lincoln playing football with my [students],” Merrigan said. “That was really something – I guess our game of touch degenerated into tackle.”
Following four years in Nebraska, Merrigan relocated to Shorewood, Wisconsin, where she taught sixth grade.
As if Ward’s proverbial ties to Grant weren’t unique enough, her journey to Vikings fandom was also an unlikely one.
Never having lived in Minnesota, Ward remembered a poster that hung on the wall of her childhood bedroom in Maryland. The poster depicted Tarkenton, who at the time played for the New York Giants after starting his career with the Vikings.
“He was kneeling in the end zone with blood running down his face,” Ward said. “That was my first connection [to the] Vikings.”
Tarkenton returned to Minnesota in 1972, but Ward really started rooting for the Purple and Gold when the Vikings drafted running back Chuck Foreman in 1973.
Ward and Foreman had been acquaintances as youth in Frederick, Maryland, where Ward was a member of the local AAU track and field club and Foreman was a member of the football team.
“Chuck Foreman played football, and our sprinter had the world record in the 100,” Ward said. “He used to try to come out and try to beat her, but he never could.”
She followed Foreman’s football career through the University of Miami and on to the pros. When he joined Tarkenton in Minnesota, Ward’s allegiances were set in stone. She quickly came to admire Grant, as well, and respected his coaching philosophy that closely resembled her own.
"He never pulled any punches," Ward said. "He was a very fair man. If you were good, he told you that; if you stunk, he told you that."
“He was a very standup, [straightforward] guy,” she continued. “I don’t know him personally; I don’t know any NFL coaches personally. But I always felt that he was right on point, he didn’t make things up, he didn’t have to grandstand.”
To this day, Ward holds Grant in high esteem.
She was saddened at his retirement in 1983 – and again in 1985 after returning for one season – but celebrated his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994.
While not in the professional ranks, Ward has quite the resume herself.
As a member of Frederick’s AAU track team, she competed nationally and internationally. She was a long jump finalist in the 1964 United States Olympic Trials. She went on to have a standout collegiate career in basketball and softball and in 1995 was inducted into the Slippery Rock Sports Hall of Fame.
Just before starting the Hickory High girls basketball program in 1972, Ward climbed to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro – a height of 19,340 feet – despite having no previous mountain-climbing experience.