Mick Tingelhoff has had a terrible time getting picked for things the past half century or so.
In 1962, the NFL draft consisted of 20 rounds. Two-hundred eighty players were selected. Eighteen of them were centers. Not one of them was named Mick Tingelhoff. Or played 17 seasons. Or never missed a preseason (90), regular-season (240) or postseason (19) game.
“After the draft, the Vikings came out to Nebraska,” Tingelhoff, the former Cornhusker, said earlier this week. “I had just gotten married and was thinking about a job. This guy came in and said, ‘We’ll give you $9,000 to come play football for us. You weren’t drafted and no one I know of is going to sign you up. Take it or leave it.’ ”
The Tingelhoffs took it. Fifty-one years later, they still live in Lakeville. One son lives in the Twin Cities. Another lives just over the border to the Cheesehead side. And a daughter, “the smart one,” Mick says, lives in Florida.
Tingelhoff hasn’t played a down of football since New Year’s Eve 1978, retiring after the Vikings lost an NFC divisional playoff game in Los Angeles. In 1984, he became eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And for the past 29 years, a growing number of people have been asking, “Why hasn’t the Hall of Fame picked Mick Tingelhoff?”
Tingelhoff said he keeps track of who gets selected, but admits he has no idea how the process actually works. He laughs and wonders if perhaps there’s some sort of Green Bay conspiracy. Hey, old rivalries never die.
“A lot of my old teammates and people I talk football with can’t believe I’m not in there yet,” Tingelhoff said. “I don’t know what to say. What do I know?”
Wednesday could be a very important day in Mick Tingelhoff’s quest to finally reach Canton, Ohio. The selection committee’s nine-member seniors committee is meeting at the Hall of Fame that day to select the two senior nominees who will be voted on by the full selection committee next February. The seniors committee will be assisted by two Hall of Fame consultants who played the majority of their careers in the same era as most of the candidates on the list.
Pretty good odds
Neither the full list of candidates nor the two consultants is made public, but Tingelhoff is on the list and is being strongly considered after years of coming up short. Also helping Tingelhoff’s chances is the fact that the Vikings and Colts are the only two eligible franchises that haven’t had a senior committee nominee presented to the selection committee. To be considered as a senior committee nominee, a player’s career has to have been completed for at least 25 years.
“It would be a tremendous honor just to be picked [Wednesday],” Tingelhoff said. “Every year, when it comes up, I watch to see if I was named or see who was named. But I’ve learned to just kind of go with the deal. If they don’t name me, they don’t name me. I just say that’s the way it is.”
Being picked as a seniors committee nominee isn’t the final step. Those nominees still need to receive at least 80 percent of the full 46- member selection committee to gain entrance into the Hall of Fame.
However, being picked as a seniors committee nominee is a huge step in the process for players such as Tingelhoff, whose careers somehow slipped through the cracks of time. There have been 51 seniors committee nominees since this step was added to the process. Five of those were nominated twice. Of the 46 players who have been nominated, 38 (82.6 percent) have gone on to be enshrined by the full selection committee.
Often an All-Pro
It’s been a couple of generations since Tingelhoff was widely known as the hard-nosed, indestructible captain of a Bud Grant-coached team that won 10 division titles, scared warm-weather softies and went to four Super Bowls. Today, he’s a season-ticket holder who goes to a couple of games, but usually passes the seats on to his sons.
“I like to watch it on TV,” he said. “But I’ll go to a few. I sit out in the stands.”
Doesn’t that draw a crowd?
“Nah,” Tingelhoff said. “I don’t think most of these people recognize me.”
They should. Tingelhoff made the Associated Press’ first-team All-Pro squad five times in six years from 1964 to ’69. That’s equal to or more than four of the seven modern-era Hall of Famers who played their entire careers as a center only.
For the sake of comparison, let’s pick Dolphins Hall of Fame center Dwight Stephenson (1980 to ’87). He was an outstanding player, obviously. He also played nine fewer seasons, 126 fewer games and has one fewer AP first-team All-Pro selections than Tingelhoff. And, like Tingelhoff, Stephenson also went winless in Super Bowls (0-2).
Tingelhoff lives right down the road from former teammate Dave Osborn. They often visit with former teammate Bill Brown and some of the other former Vikings from that era.
“We still get together,” Tingelhoff said. “And we still tell the same old stories.”
“I remember the games against Dick Butkus and the Bears,” Tingelhoff said. “We used to call him, ‘Dickie Do’ and he’d get mad and show me one of his fingers.”
Let’s just say Dick wasn’t signaling No. 1.
“Dick was a great player and a good guy, I found out later,” Tingelhoff said. “I played in the Pro Bowl out in Los Angeles one year. I get there and here comes Dick Butkus. He was my roommate.”
If Tingelhoff lands one of the two seniors committee nominations on Wednesday, he and Butkus will have an 82.6 percent chance of rooming together again. In Canton, Ohio.
Mark Craig firstname.lastname@example.org