The Hall of Fame Series: Mick Tingelhoff

Class of 2015

Tenure: Minnesota 1962-78

In front of a great quarterback usually stands a great center. Terry Bradshaw had Mike Webster. Peyton Manning had Jeff Saturday. In the 60s and 70s, Fran Tarkenton (whose own Hall of Fame career was previously covered by us in this series) had Mick Tingelhoff, one of the NFL’s poster boys for toughness and consistency.

An undrafted free agent center out of Nebraska, Tingelhoff joined the Minnesota Vikings in 1962. Even though he only stood 6-foot-2, 237 pounds (small for a center even by that era’s standards), Tingelhoff immediately broke into the starting lineup, starting all 14 games as a rookie. This began a remarkable trend as he started every game for the rest of his career. That included 240 consecutive starts in the regular season (the second-most in NFL history at the time of his retirement, only behind teammate Jim Marshall) and 19 playoff games.

But Tingelhoff didn’t just show up every Sunday; he performed at an elite level. He was selected to the Pro Bowl every year from 1964 through 1969. On top of that, he was named first-team All-Pro in 1964, 1965, 1966, 1968, and 1969. His down year, 1967, he was still recognized as second-team All-Pro. Even with stiff competition, Tingelhoff was still named to the 1960’s second-team All-Decade team.

Tingelhoff continued to find success in the 70s. He helped guide star running back Chuck Foreman to three consecutive 1,000 yard seasons from 1975-77. And when Tarkenton returned for his second stint in Minnesota, Tingelhoff protected the older quarterback whose mobility didn’t allow him to evade rushers like he did in his early years. Tingelhoff was one of 11 Vikings players to have played in all four of the team’s Super Bowls.

After retiring in 1978, Tingelhoff was inducted into the Nebraska Hall of Fame in 1980. In 2001, Tingelhoff was inducted into the Vikings Ring of Honor, and his number 53 jersey was retired, never to be worn again. Still, the wait to get into Canton was beginning to drag on. First eligible in 1983, Tingelhoff’s career appeared to be overlooked like several other Vikings due to their inability to win a Super Bowl.

Finally, in his 32nd year of eligibility, Mick Tingelhoff was rightfully enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, by that time Tingelhoff was suffering from short-term memory loss. At first, the plan was for Tingelhoff to say a few words. But at the last minute, Tarkenton and Mick’s wife, Phyllis Tingelhoff, decided it would be best to take the pressure off of Mick and let Tarkenton say a few words. As the two walked onto the stage, an emotional Tarkenton said, “Mick’s a man of little words, but a lot of action. He’s so proud to be in this Class of 2015. He waited 37 years to get to the hall of fame.”

It was one of the night’s most powerful moments. Tarkenton had said prior that Tingelhoff was his “best friend”, and the short message and image of the two on stage together spoke more to the audience than any 15-minute speech could have provided. It was a bond that transcended their Hall of Fame careers on the football field and a bond that truly matters in the grand scheme of life.