CANTON, Ohio – Gold never looked so good on a man who spent 17 years wearing nothing but purple.
“I’m going to cry,” Jazzmyn Tingelhoff said Thursday night as her grandfather, former Vikings center Mick Tingelhoff, prepared to make the walk that would lead to the Pro Football Hall of Fame gold jacket that had eluded him since his final snap to Fran Tarkenton 37 years ago.
“We’re all going to cry. And it’s not him walking up to the stage and across the stage. It will be the jacket. Putting on that jacket means he has it. They can’t take it away from him. You know what I mean?”
Yes. The football world knew exactly what Jazzmyn meant when Mick Tingelhoff, the five-time All-Pro who started 240 consecutive regular-season games, third-most in NFL history, received the NFL’s most coveted piece of clothing during the Enshrinees’ Gold Jacket Dinner at the Canton Civic Center in the city that gave birth to the league.
“It’s about darn time,” said former Dallas Cowboys executive Gil Brandt while looking on nearby. “We have so many players like him that deserve to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They get passed over and forgotten about. Like Jim Marshall.
“I understand the system. I know we don’t want everybody and their brother in the Hall of Fame. But somebody who started every game for 17 and 20 years and played on championship teams, I’m not sure how you can say a person like that doesn’t belong.”
For Tingelhoff, the wait is over.
He and seven fellow members of the Hall’s Class of 2015 were introduced to a fired-up crowd of partisan Steelers fans who made the 90-minute drive to cheer on enshrinee Jerome Bettis as well as root for the Steelers against the Vikings in Sunday’s Hall of Fame Game.
But before the new class was introduced, 79 past enshrinees were introduced. Seventy-six of them walked across the stage and then formed two long gantlets of good will on opposite sides of the stage. Former Vikings Warren Moon, Ron Yary, John Randle, Paul Krause, Jan Stenerud, Cris Carter, Gary Zimmerman, Chris Doleman, Randall McDaniel and Carl Eller were there. Tarkenton, Tingelhoff’s Hall of Fame presenter, doesn’t arrive until Friday afternoon.
The seven living members of the class made their way one by one through the rows of high-fives and hugs from their new eternal teammates until they reached the stage.
“Geez, I remember Mick when he played at Nebraska,” Brandt said. “I told him, ‘The Cowboys didn’t even think you were a football player, let alone a great football player, because you were about 215 pounds.’ ”
The Cowboys weren’t alone in their skepticism. Tingelhoff went undrafted through 20 rounds and 280 selections, including 20 centers.
“He didn’t have the height or the weight,” Brandt said. “But he was one of those guys who didn’t impress you until you looked at the film and his man never made a play.”
The Tingelhoff clan, which includes 12 grandchildren, three children and a wife of 54 years, Phyllis, filled up two tables on the floor of near the stage. Yes, there were tears.
As Tingelhoff made his way through the gantlet of “Gold Jackets,” as past enshrinees are called, his smile got wider as Eller grabbed him in a tight embrace. After he climbed on stage, he waved to the crowd and received a bear hug from the massive arms of Hall classmate Charles Haley.
Then he spotted Krause standing right next to the stage. Krause flashed thumbs up. Tingelhoff smiled and flashed one back.
Later, Tingelhoff slipped on the gold jacket for the first time. His son, Mike, filling in for Tarkenton, placed the jacket on Tingelhoff.
“And this is just the beginning,” Jazzmyn said. “After this, it’s go, go, go until Saturday.”
That’s when Tingelhoff’s bronze bust will be unveiled during the enshrinement ceremony.
“I’m still just dumbfounded by it all,” Phyllis said. “It’s incredible. Every time I think about this weekend, I just can’t believe we’re here. We’re here!”