The Hall of Fame (HOF) ceremonies on Saturday kicked-off the 2015 NFL season. Eight people were inducted into the HOF, including Minnesota's own: Mick Tingelhoff.
Fran Tarkenton, the quarterback who most benefited from Tingelhoff's efforts at center, spoke for him in a short speech that last just over a minute. Tarkenton choked up (as did any Viking fan) when he stated that it was a 37 year wait for Mick to enter. That raw emotion was met with a standing ovation which included rival Steelers fans. The brief speech ended with a tribute to even those rival fans.
There were many speeches, but none so short. Junior Seau's daughter gave a beautiful speech. Charles Haley's speech was from the heart. Jerome Bettis carried the crowd. Ron Wolf and the other inductees all found a way to reach the hearts of football fans both live and on television.
But here in Minnesota we were touched by Tingelhoff.
That Mick chose not to speak is unfortunate, but the reality of the toll that a long career in the NFL can have on a player was accented. The 37 year wait allowed us a window into the long-term effects of hitting helmet to helmet for near twenty professional seasons in an era where helmets did not provide the safety they do today. So as Fran spoke for his good friend, we lament the cognitive based outcome of our beloved center.
As a youth in Minnesota during the 1970s I feel blessed to have witnessed the domination of the Vikings from 1968 to 1978. As Chris Berman stated, 10 division titles in 11 years. An NFC Championship. Four Super Bowl visits. It was fun to cheer for a team that continually was better than all of their opponents year after year.
Only the Super Bowl losses tarnished what was one of the greatest era in Minnesota sports.
The greatest tribute to Tingelhoff I can personally offer is that when we pretended to be Minnesota Vikings as kids, in pick-up games in our suburban yards, we included him. Sure everyone wanted to be Tarkenton, or Page, or Foreman, or Gilliam. But every now and then someone would pretend to be Tingelhoff when they snapped the ball, and knocked down the pretend Page coming after their quarterback. We all knew his number (53). We knew Ron Yary's number (73), Ed White's (62), and Milt Sunde (64)..
Even as kids we recognized the value of a good offensive line.
My favorite quote regarding Mick Tingelhoff is from Bud Grant himself. It was said that he once said "I have two centers. A healthy Tingelhoff and an injured Tingelhoff." Mick never missed a game, playoff, or even a practice. He was a true gridiron warrior. It comes as no surprise that he really was meant to be a middle linebacker, where he played in Nebraska both in high school and college.
He was that tough.
So we honor him at tonight's game, along with the other inductees. Sure, Minnesota fans will be eager to see their new team. There is a lot of hope building. Eyes will be on the improving defense, the maturation of Teddy Bridgewater, his receivers, and of course Adrian Peterson when they finally let him play.
However, if we learned anything from examining the contributions of Tingelhoff to a purple dynasty, it is that the offensive line has EVERYTHING to do with our success.