Gold Jacket Spotlight: Center of Attention, Mick Tingelhoff

Gold Jacket Spotlight: Center of Attention, Mick Tingelhoff

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An interviewer once asked Mick Tingelhoff whether he ever saw Bud Grant smile.

“I don’t think so,” Mick replied.

It’s a safe bet, however, that Grant, the longtime coach of the Minnesota Vikings, flashed a smile – probably a wide one – when Mick was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2015.

After all, Grant was one of Mick’s biggest champions, telling all who would listen that his ironman center’s wait to reach the Hall, which ended after 32 years of eligibility, was years overdue.

“There are people in the Hall of Fame, centers, that Mick is better than they are by a mile – in any way you want to measure it: productivity, leadership, durability, games played, the whole thing,” Grant said as he and other Vikings advocated for Mick’s election in the weeks before the Hall of Fame’s Senior Committee chose him as a finalist.

Mick’s career takes “center” stage this week in the Gold Jacket Spotlight.

Mick joined the Minnesota Vikings in 1962, the franchise’s second year of existence. He was an undrafted free agent from the University of Nebraska invited to rookie training camp as a prospect at linebacker. He soon moved to center and – except for his long-snapping – never looked back.

He held the position for every game of his 17-year career. His 240 consecutive starts in the regular season share third place on the NFL’s all-time list for all positions, trailing only Brett Favre (297) and former Vikings teammate Jim Marshall (270) and tied with Phillip Rivers. Adding the postseason, Mick started 259 consecutive games, seven more than Rivers for third place alone.

During that time, Mick also never missed a practice.

Along the way, the Vikings grew from expansion pushover to NFL powerhouse, winning the league’s title in 1969 with a 12-2 record and advancing to Super Bowl IV.

That season, Minnesota boasted the league’s highest-scoring offense, powered by a balanced rushing attack. Mick was named the NFL's Top Offensive Lineman of the Year by the 1,000-Yard Club in Columbus, Ohio; was named All-Pro for the fifth time; and was selected to his sixth Pro Bowl.

Post-merger, the Vikings continued to dominate the NFC for several more seasons during Mick’s career, missing the playoffs only once and reaching the Super Bowl three times in a four-season stretch from 1973-76.

Pro football fans know how those four Super Bowls turned out for the Vikings.

“We made it,” Mick, not big on using a lot of words, told an interviewer when asked about the four losses. “We beat some good teams before (earlier in those seasons) but didn’t on that day.”

Many accolades followed Mick’s retirement. He was inducted into the Vikings Ring of Honor in 2001, and the team has retired his No. 53 jersey. He was inducted into the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame in 1980.

In 2011, Mick was named that year's recipient of the Gerald R. Ford Legends Award, given annually to someone who played center at the collegiate or professional level, made extraordinary contributions to his team during his football career and proved to be “an exemplary citizen, philanthropist or leader in the business or football community.”

“I have no doubt that had he not played center, he would have been a Hall of Fame linebacker,” Grant told a reporter when Mick finally was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “Guys look at him as an example of how to do things.”

Doing things right, the way Mick did for 259 consecutive games, makes a coach smile. Even if the player doesn’t see it.

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