Durable, Reliable, 'Quick Mick' Tingelhoff: 1940-2021
The football world today is celebrating the life of Mike Tingelhoff, the anchor of the Minnesota Vikings’ offensive line from the second year of the team’s existence through its run to four Super Bowl appearances in an eight-year span.
A member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2015, Tingelhoff died Saturday. He was 81.
“The entire Pro Football Hall of Fame family mourns the passing of Mick Tingelhoff. He was a true hero of the game,” said David Baker, President and CEO of the Hall of Fame. “Mick was a tenacious and persevering competitor with the kindest of hearts and the brightest of smiles. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mick’s wife, Phyllis, and their entire family.”
Tingelhoff was one of the National Football League’s true ironmen. He started every game from the openers in his 1962 rookie season until he retired in 1978 –240 consecutive regular-season games and 259 overall when including the postseason.
The streak of 259 consecutive starts ranks as the third longest in the history of the NFL, trailing only Brett Favre and Tingelhoff’s former teammate Jim Marshall.
“Mick was the guy who was durable, didn’t make mistakes and did his job. For a number of years–year in, year out. That’s what it takes to be in the Hall of Fame,” former Vikings running back and teammate Dave Osborn said when Tingelhoff was the Senior Finalist prior to his election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “You know, there are other guys in the Hall of Fame, other centers, who didn’t have near the careers that Mick had.
“A Hall of Fame guy to me isn’t the guy that had one or two or three flashy years,” Osborn continued. “It’s the guy who’s there eight, 10, 12 years, pounding, year after year after year doing the job. That’s the Hall of Famer to me.
”That describes Tingelhoff.
Mick was a tenacious and persevering competitor with the kindest of hearts and the brightest of smiles. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mick’s wife, Phyllis, and their entire family.#HOFForever | @Vikings pic.twitter.com/w8yMUtgnpR— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) September 11, 2021
Over his 17 seasons, he not only didn’t miss a game, he also never missed a practice. He was selected to the Pro Bowl each year from 1964 to 1969 and was named first-team All-Pro five of those seasons.In 1969, he was named the NFL's Top Offensive Lineman of the Year by the 1,000-Yard Club in Columbus, Ohio.
Few would have predicted that level of success and sustained excellence based on his early years of organized football.
Tingelhoff was born on May 22, 1940 in the small town of Lexington in central Nebraska. He earned all-conference and all-state honors as a senior at Lexington High in 1957 but received only one college scholarship offer.
“I grew up on a farm in Nebraska,and the only school that gave me a scholarship was (the University of) Nebraska,” Tingelhoff told an interviewer. He played linebacker and center in Lincoln and was co-captain of the 1961 team as a senior.
Following his final season, Tingelhoff participated in the Senior Bowl and in the All-American Bowl. Without the label of All-American or even all-conference, however, he slipped through the 280-player draft. He signed as a free agent with the year-old Vikings, whose coaches envisioned him as a prospect at linebacker, with his size and quickness ideal for that position.
During rookie camp, he moved to center and immediately became a fixture on the offensive line. His foot speed, toughness and solid blocking techniques helped to offset his modest 6-foot-2, 237-pound frame.
“He was aggressive;he could run;he could hit, but we needed a center,” Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton, who played with Tingelhoff for 12 seasons over his two stints with the Vikings, said in presenting him for Enshrinement in 2015. “So our coach, Norm Van Brocklin,moved him to center. He had the look. He had the eye. He had the demeanor. And from the first time he stepped on the field, we knew he was a player.
”Tarkenton said Tingelhoff “did everything” at center.
“He called the blocking. He made the blocks on the defensive tackle or the linebacker.... He was as quick as any center I’ve ever seen. And he had a jolt, a motor, a capacity to hit people that was stunning.”
From his defensive end position, Marshall saw Tingelhoff’s work ethic and skills first-hand each day in practice.
“We called him ‘Quick Mick.’ He’d do whatever was necessary to advance the ball. I think Fran Tarkenton summed it up best when he said, ‘(Mick) was one of the greatest centers to ever play football.’ And I totally agree with that,” Marshall said in a video highlighting Tingelhoff’s career. “He was one of the best blockers at center in football. You talk to some of the defensive people that played against him and they all speak of him very highly.”
“Mickis one of the finest centers of all time,” Hall of Fame linebacker Dave Robinsontold a Minneapolis reporter in 2014.The former Packers standout served as a consultant who helped the Senior Committee evaluate the candidates the year Tingelhoff emerged asa Finalist.
Another Hall of Fame linebacker, Dick Butkus, also endorsed Tingelhoff’s election to the Hall of Fame, telling the reporter he was the “toughest center I ever played against.”
Vikings dominate NFC in mid-1970s
During Tingelhoff’s career, the Vikings steadily improved, making the playoffs for the first time in 1968 and reaching Super Bowl IV after a 12-2 regular season in 1969 that featured the NFL’s highest scoring offense.
The 1973, 1974 and 1976 teams also won NFC championships, and the 1975, 1977 and 1978 teams reached the playoffs. Several of those teams ranked in the Top 5 in the NFL in key offensive categories.
Tarkenton, who also ended his own record-setting career with Tingelhoff after the 1978 season, threw for more than 2,500 yards nine times in their 12 seasons together. Tingelhoff also helped pave the way for running back Chuck Foreman to compile three consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons (1975-77).
And despite his move from linebacker to center in the pros, he didn’t lose all of his instincts for finding an opponent with the ball.
“Not only was he a great center, he was a great (long) snapper,” Fred Zamberletti, the Vikings’ trainer for 50 seasons, said in a highlight video for Tingelhoff. “And he probably made more tackles snapping the ball and going down the field on the punting team than anybody else on the special teams.”
Various honors followed Tingelhoff into retirement.
He was inducted into the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame in 1980. His name was added to the Minnesota Vikings Ring of Honor in 2001, and the team retired his No. 53 jersey.
In 2011, he received the President Gerald R. Ford Legends Award, given to a former collegiate or professional player who “made extraordinary contributions to his team during his football career, or (has) proven to be an exemplary citizen, philanthropist or leader in the business or football community.”
Long wait finally ends
Despite the praise and accolades from several corners, Tingelhoff waited 32 years to hear his named called for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.“If the phone rings, the phone rings,” he said in an interview recorded between the time he was named a Senior Finalist and learning he would join the Class of 2015.Upon his election, he told a Minneapolis sportswriter,“I never thought it would happen,but here I am. It’s great. My family is all happy, so everything is really good.”
His longtime head coach, Hall of Famer Bud Grant, grew increasingly frustrated that Tingelhoff’s election took so long.
“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,” he said shortly before the Class of 2015 was announced.
Indeed, Tingelhoff’s five first-team All-Pro seasons equaled or surpassed four of the other eight centers in the Hall of Fame at the time of his election, and none waited longer for his call.
“Mick was a catalyst for our team and one of the most respected players on those teams,” Grant said. “I have no doubt that had he not played center, he would have been a Hall of Fame linebacker. Guys look at him as an example of how to do things.”
The soft-spoken Tingelhoff summed up his career in his typically succinct fashion: “I had a good career –a pretty lucky career. I came out of Nebraska; I wasn’t drafted. Signed as a free agent and made the team right away. Moved up here, played up here for 17 years. I was lucky.I never got hurt.”
In presenting him for Enshrinement, Tarkenton called Tingelhoff his “personal protector” and his best friend.
“I never knew Mick Tingelhoff to have a bad day. He played hard and with great skills every time he went on the football field, and he helped make the Minnesota Vikings a great team of that era,” he said. “He helped us get to those Super Bowls. We could not have don’t it without Mick Tingelhoff.”
Tingelhoff’s legacy as an ironman, a team-first player and the centerpiece of one of the NFL’s top teams over his 17-year career will be preserved forever at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.