PHOENIX – Mick and Phyllis Tingelhoff arrived at the site for Super Bowl XLIX on Friday. If they leave without Mick being measured for a gold jacket as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2015, it will be …
“Horrendous,” said Vikings Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton.
He’s right. The Hall of Fame process has taunted the Tingelhoffs for decades. But to slam the door on Mick with his nose this close to the entryway would be …
“Not right,” Tarkenton said. “Cruel.”
Right again. If he’s turned away, the Hall should consider changing the system. Either cap a man’s length of eligibility or spare his heartache by not announcing anything until he’s actually selected.
Tarkenton joined the then-expansion Vikings as a third-round draft pick (29th overall) in 1961. A year later, after a 20-round, 280-player draft, Tingelhoff joined the Vikings as an undrafted linebacker from Nebraska.
“[Coach Norm] Van Brocklin moved Mick to center and the rest was history,” Tarkenton said. “He played 17 seasons and never missed a start. Or a practice.”
Tarkenton and Tingelhoff became roommates and close friends. In 1978, they retired together. In 1984 and 1985, they were eligible for the Hall of Fame but weren’t chosen.
Tarkenton, the league’s career passing leader at the time, was selected in 1986 in his third year of eligibility. In 2003, 25 years after his retirement, Tingelhoff passed from modern-era consideration to the senior committee, which is a subcommittee of the 46-member selection committee.
After 11 more years, Tingelhoff earned the senior committee nomination in the summer of 2014. He is the first Viking to receive that honor and the only senior committee candidate this year.
“Back in the summer, I told Mick that him getting in the Hall of Fame would mean more to me than me getting into the Hall of Fame,” Tarkenton said. “Let’s put it this way. I haven’t been back to the Hall of Fame since I went in back in 1986. But if Mick gets in this thing, I’ll be back there in Canton this summer.”
On Saturday, Tingelhoff will be discussed by the 46-person selection committee, which includes me, for the first time in his 31 years of eligibility. He is expected to gain the 80 percent of the votes necessary for enshrinement.
His 31 years between the start of eligibility and selection wouldn’t be a record. Not even close.
Former Steelers defensive back Jack Butler waited 50 years to be discussed for the first time as a finalist. Les Richter waited 46 years, Dave Robinson 34 years and Dick LeBeau 33. Each of them was voted in on their first ballots as finalists.
There are seven centers in the Hall of Fame. Tingelhoff’s five first-team All-Pro selections are equal to or more than four of them. It’s one more than Miami’s Jim Langer (1970-81) and equal to Pittsburgh’s Mike Webster (1974-90).
Yes, those two played on teams that won Super Bowls. Langer on two of them, Webster on four.
But the Super Bowl argument loses steam with Dwight Stephenson, another Dolphins Hall of Fame center. Stephenson never had a chance to celebrate a Super Bowl win and had one fewer All-Pro season than Tingelhoff while playing nine fewer seasons with 153 fewer starts.
In 1978, Tingelhoff missed a preseason game because he was in the hospital with a leg infection. It was big news because it broke a streak of 328 preseason, regular season and postseason games played.
As for regular-season starts, Tingelhoff never missed one in 240 regular season games. Among Hall of Famers, only Bruce Matthews played more years (19) and had more starts (292) than Tingelhoff.
Among all players at all positions in the 95-year history of the game, Tingelhoff ranks eighth in consecutive starts.
The 6-2, 237-pounder played on teams that won 10 division titles, the 1969 NFL championship and reached four Super Bowls. He blocked for running backs that went to 13 Pro Bowls and a passing attack that ranked in the top six in Tingelhoff’s final seven seasons.
“Of all of us Vikings in the Hall of Fame, he’s the most deserving of all of us,” Tarkenton said. “His track record, his credentials are better than all of us. Great player, great longevity and played great on great teams and bad teams.”