The durable former Vikings center never missed a game or practice in 17 years.
If two members of the Vikings deserve to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, in addition to the 12 who played primarily for the team that are already in, they would be center Mick Tingelhoff and defensive end Jim Marshall. Tingelhoff finally got nominated by the Hall’s senior committee Wednesday.
Marshall, one of the greatest NFL competitors for 20 years, is no longer eligible for a senior nomination. Tingelhoff, a former Nebraska linebacker and 19-year veteran with the Vikings, will be voted on by the full Hall of Fame Committee on Jan. 31, the day before Super Bowl XLIX in Arizona.
Reached in South Dakota, Tingelhoff — who was on vacation with his wife, Phyllis, and longtime teammate Grady Alderman and his wife, Nancy — said he was happy to get the news.
“Yeah it was [good to get nominated],” he said. “I’m happy, I’m happy.”
Tingelhoff said he thought, in typically modest fashion, it was probably his longevity that eventually won him the nomination.
“Well, I don’t know, I guess all the time I played and didn’t miss a game and all that stuff, I guess [it helped],” he said. “Simple goals.”
Tingelhoff’s durability was remarkable. He often played through injuries that would have sidelined most players.
For some 32 years, I was a member of the NFL Hall of Fame Committee and fought hard to get Tingelhoff in as a modern-era candidate and also, until I retired from the committee recently, came close to getting Tingelhoff nominated as a senior member. But unfortunately I could not help that happen, but thankfully he has finally been nominated.
There are 13 centers in the Hall of Fame and rest assured, Tingelhoff was as good or better than most of them. But several Vikings have taken a long time to get into the Hall of Fame or not gotten in at all because they lost four Super Bowls, which was what I heard from some narrow-minded voters over the years.
One of Tingelhoff’s biggest boosters was the late Vince Lombardi, who was a personal friend and told me after one of the Vikings’ victories over the Packers in Green Bay, “That number 53 played one of the greatest games I’ve ever witnessed a center play.” And when I told Lombardi that Tingelhoff played with a torn muscle, he laughed.
So to prove my point, I got Don Lannon, the Vikings’ doctor at the time, to send Lombardi an X-ray of Tingelhoff’s knee. The Packers coach was shocked and brought it up the next time I saw him.
When the Vikings retired his jersey in 2001, longtime Vikings trainer Fred Zamberletti verified what I told Lombardi when he told the Star Tribune: “I remember once he tore a [leg] muscle. We taped him all the way from his toes to his buttocks, and he played every play against Green Bay. I remember another time, he had a separated shoulder. The doctor said there was no way he could play, but somehow he had a miraculous recovery and played Sunday.”
No one was happier about Tingelhoff’s nomination than his former roommate and teammate Fran Tarkenton, who was already talking like Tingelhoff was enshrined in Canton.
“How about old Micky boy, he’s [nominated for] the Hall of Fame!” Tarkenton said when reached by phone. “I talked to him and Phyllis today, I’ve been crying all afternoon. I’m happier for him than when I went in [to the Hall], because he just meant so much to our team. He meant so much to me. He was my roommate, my best friend, such a great player. He deserved to be in there before any of the rest of us. … I think it’s great.”
Tarkenton said Tingelhoff, at age 74, was happy when he talked to him about the nomination. “Phyllis is thrilled to death and Mick, in his own way, is, too,” Tarkenton said. “… Let me tell you what, this guy — there was no better center in all the history of football than he. He played 17 years, never missed a game. He never missed a practice!
“Mick and I retired the same year together, we retired after the 1978 season and Bud [Grant, the former Vikings coach] told the press, ‘Well, we’ve won games here without Fran Tarkenton starting, but I’ve never won a game here without Mick Tingelhoff starting.’ That’s a great quote from Bud.”
Grant on Tingelhoff
Nobody was a bigger booster of Tingelhoff than Grant, who fit his theory that durability is as important as ability. Tingelhoff trails only fellow Vikings Brett Favre and Marshall in consecutive games played by a position player in the NFL and still holds the record for the most for an offensive lineman.
“The greatest ability he had, and all the great ones have it, is durability,” Grant said. “He played 240 straight games. That’s amazing. He never missed a game. He had injuries like everybody had, but nothing that didn’t allow him to play. He was a special guy. He was there when I got there, of course, but I knew about him beforehand. I talked to him because I talked to him about coming to Winnipeg.
“When I got [to Minnesota], I appointed him captain. He had that much respect among his teammates and coaches, as much as anyone ever had.”
Grant, still not happy that Marshall hasn’t received a similar honor, said at least some justice has finally been served. He believes Tingelhoff was such a great athlete that he could have been as good a linebacker as he was a center.
“He was that good of an athlete and football player,” Grant said. “When you’re on defense it’s a different mentality, but he enjoyed being able to go tackle somebody.”
• Former Vikings coach Paul Wiggin, who still works for the team, on Tingelhoff: “I think the Hall of Fame is a place for great players. I wonder sometimes when people go in, were they really a great player? I think everyone that’s had anything to do with Mick, whether they were on his team or an opponent, would say he’s a great player and belongs in the Hall of Fame. I believe that.”
• On the same day Tingelhoff’s jersey was retired in 2001, teammate Ron Yary told the Star Tribune that Tingelhoff’s consistency was amazing. “Mick may have had one bad snap in 17 years of football,” Yary said. “And that includes snapping on field goals and extra points. His consistency was almost unbelievable.”
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40, 8:40 and 9:20 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org
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