PHOENIX – Mick Tingelhoff will never again be asked if he thinks he should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In his 32nd year of eligibility and 38 years after delivering his last snap to Fran Tarkenton, the captain of the Vikings’ four Super Bowl teams finally has joined his dear friend and old roommate for eternity in Canton, Ohio.
“I’m happier about Mick getting into the Hall of Fame than I was when I went into the Hall of Fame,” Tarkenton said. “I haven’t been back to the Hall of Fame since I went in back in 1986. But with Mick going in, I’ll be the first one there this year.”
Saturday’s 8-hour, 53-minute Hall of Fame selection meeting began at 7 a.m. at the Phoenix Convention Center. As the lone senior committee finalist, Tingelhoff was the first of 18 finalists to be discussed. After a positive 12-minute, 53-second discussion that focused on correcting a decades-old oversight, the 46-member selection committee, including me, voted on a 17-year playing career that epitomized the term “iron man.”
With 80 percent of the votes needed for selection, the mood of the room could best be described as one of amazement that this was the first time the selection committee had ever formally discussed Tingelhoff. He was never a finalist in 25 years of eligibility as a modern-era player and it took another 11 years before becoming the first Viking to become a Hall of Fame senior committee finalist.
“I never thought it would happen,” Tingelhoff said, “but here I am. It’s great. My family is all happy, so everything is really good.”
He was a five-time first-team All-Pro and six-time Pro Bowl selection who never missed a start (240) or a practice from the time he joined the Vikings as an undrafted rookie linebacker from Nebraska until he retired after the 1978 season.
Asked if the Vikings’ 0-4 record in Super Bowls played a role in his having to wait so long, Tingelhoff said: “Maybe it was the Super Bowl losses. That was too bad. But I don’t know. … We didn’t win any Super Bowls, but we were there.”
Tingelhoff’s peers were happy to see his selection.
“Mick is one of the finest centers of all time,” said Packers Hall of Fame linebacker Dave Robinson, who met with the senior committee in Canton last summer to help them pick Tingelhoff as a finalist. Meanwhile, Bears Hall of Fame linebacker Dick Butkus also endorsed the selection, saying Tingelhoff was the “toughest center I ever played against.”
Tingelhoff will make an appearance at Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday and be measured for his Hall of Fame gold jacket Monday. He will enter the Hall Aug. 8 alongside five modern-era players and two members of the newly created contributor’s category.
The modern-era players are Steelers running back Jerome Bettis Raiders receiver Tim Brown; 49ers and Cowboys defensive end Charles Haley; Chiefs guard Will Shields; and the late Chargers linebacker Junior Seau, the only first-ballot selection this year. The contributors are former longtime general managers Bill Polian and Ron Wolf.
After discussing and voting on Tingelhoff, Polian and Wolf, the committee discussed 15 modern-era finalists. Eliminated in the first cut to 10 were safety John Lynch, running back Terrell Davis, coach Jimmy Johnson, kicker Morten Andersen and coach Don Coryell.
The next cut was to five. Eliminated in that round were linebacker Kevin Greene, receiver Marvin Harrison, offensive tackle Orlando Pace, two-time league MVP quarterback Kurt Warner and coach Tony Dungy, the former Gophers quarterback and Vikings defensive coordinator. Warner and Pace were in their first year of eligibility.
This year’s class will bring the Hall’s total to 295. Tingelhoff spoke up on behalf of former teammate Jim Marshall, who would have to go through the senior committee to reach the Hall.
“Jim should be in too,” Tingelhoff said. “He was a good player. A very good player.”
Tingelhoff becomes the ninth center to reach the Hall of Fame. His five All-Pro first-team selections are as many or more than four of the other centers in the Hall. He has one more first-team All-Pro selection, nine more seasons and 153 more starts than Dolphins great Dwight Stephenson, who was selected in his sixth year of eligibility in 1998.
Tingelhoff has more consecutive starts than any other offensive lineman in NFL history. He’s 12th among players at all positions. And, oh yeah, he also handled all the long-snapping on a team that won 10 division titles, the 1969 NFL championship and played in four Super Bowls.
At 6-2 and 237 pounds, Tingelhoff was considered undersized even by the standards of his era. But he was tough with quick feet that helped him reach linebackers and defensive backs better than most of the centers of his time. And to think that he started that first training camp as a linebacker who had fallen through a 20-round, 280-player draft.
“Mick was a catalyst for our team and one of the most respected players on those teams,” said longtime Vikings coach Bud Grant, who was inducted in Canton in 1994. “I have no doubt that had he not played center, he would have been a Hall of Fame linebacker. Guys look at him as an example of how to do things.”
And now Tingelhoff stands alongside all of them who reached the Hall of Fame oh so long before he did.