Former Vikings center Mick Tingelhoff isn’t in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but it does appear that his long, long wait will end on Jan. 31 when the Class of 2015 is selected in Arizona the day before Super Bowl XLIX.
“I’m excited,” Tingelhoff said by phone Wednesday after being chosen as the lone senior committee candidate for next year’s full committee vote.
“It’s unbelievable. But I’ll be more excited when the final vote is taken.”
Tingelhoff, who went from undrafted linebacker in 1962 to never missing a game or a practice in 17 years at center, is the first Vikings player to be selected as a Senior Committee nominee. He retired in 1978 and was eligible as a modern era candidate from 1984 until 2009. This is the first time his case will be presented to and voted on by the Hall’s full 46-person committee.
Historically speaking, his chances are good. As in 74 percent good. Of the 54 senior candidates, 40 were voted into the Hall of Fame. And of the 14 who didn’t receive the necessary 80 percent of the vote initially, four of them were voted in after being nominated a second time.
“Mick Tingelhoff is the reason we have a senior committee,” said Rick Gosselin, a leader on the senior committee and longtime respected NFL reporter and columnist for the Dallas Morning News.
“Of the 17 players in this year’s slate of senior finalists, I thought Mick was the best candidate — the quality of his play, the quality of his teams, the longevity of his career. Thirty-one years was long enough for him to wait for his chance to be discussed as a Hall of Fame finalist. Mick was an oversight that needed to be addressed.”
Vikings Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton shares that feeling.
“Why it’s taken this long is beyond me,” he said. “The only thing I can think of is our players get tainted because we didn’t win a Super Bowl. But we played in four of the first 11.
“I think that’s kept Mick Tingelhoff out and it’s kept Jim Marshall out. And it’s a shame because none of us who have gotten in from our team — or any other team — is more deserving of the Hall of Fame than Mick Tingelhoff.”
The 1962 draft included 20 rounds and 280 players. Yet the 6-2, 237-pound Tingelhoff wasn’t one of them. The free agent out of Nebraska signed with the Vikings and reported to camp as a middle linebacker.
“We needed a center early in camp,” Tarkenton said. “So Mick moved over there and became as great a center that’s ever played. I saw him lay out Merlin Olsen on a block. I saw him lay out Bob Lilly. That’s two giant men, Hall of Famers right there. And he did them both on a couple of my scrambles.”
Tingelhoff started all 240 games of his career, anchoring a line that helped the Vikings win 10 divisional titles in 11 seasons. He was first-team All-Pro five times and a six-time Pro Bowler.
Tingelhoff said he’s most proud of never missing a game or practice in high school, college and the NFL. Former Vikings head athletic trainer Fred Zamberletti learned never to doubt Tingelhoff’s availability come game day.
“I saw him play with a separated shoulder one time,” Zamberletti said. “The doctor was leaving on a trip to the Orient. He said, ‘There’s no way Tingelhoff will play this week.’ But he did.”