‘Tough as nails,’ Tingelhoff gets HOF bid

Fred Zamberletti, who has been with the Vikings since 1961, talked about the “tough as nails” Mick Tingelhoff.

Mick Tingelhoff, the great Minnesota Vikings center from 1962-78, found out from long-time trainer Fred Zamberletti that Tingelhoff had been selected as the senior nominee for selection into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015.

Tingelhoff will need 80 percent of the committee’s votes to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame in 2015. The Pro Football Hall of Fame’s selection meeting will be held on Jan. 31, 2015, in Arizona, the day before Super Bowl XLIX.

Perhaps no one still with the organization had been around Tingelhoff as much as Zamberletti, who was the athletic trainer for 43 years, from the start of the franchise in 1961 until 2003. He still serves as consultant and team historian.

Tingelhoff joined the Vikings as an undrafted rookie in 1962 and started 240 consecutive games – including all four Super Bowl losses for the team – never missing a start in 17 years. But his contributions were more than just for time served. He was one of the best centers in the NFL for most of his decorated career.

Tingelhoff was named All-Pro seven consecutive years, played in six straight Pro Bowls and was named the league’s top blocker in 1969.

Zamberletti said Vince Lombardi, the Hall of Fame coach with the rival Green Bay Packers, often spoke highly of Tingelhoff.

“When you’ve got him saying nice things about you,” Zamberletti said, “that meant a lot in the league.”

However, Tingelhoff was passed over for Hall of Fame consideration for decades and it took 36 years after his retirement before making it as the senior nominee.

Here is what Zamberletti had to say about breaking the news to Tingelhoff and what he meant to the team during his 17 seasons with the Vikings:

What was his reaction when you told him?
“Very happy. Not as happy as his wife was. This is a great day in Viking history that Mick Tingelhoff is (a finalist for) the Hall of Fame. We felt that he should have been in there before. A lot of times when we went to training camps, they were very hard and brutal. He would be the only center there and we’d line up for full contact at 2 o’clock in the afternoon and go full scrimmage for 2½ hours and Tingelhoff would be the only center. We would bring in other centers to back him up. They were always hurt, so Tingelhoff would have to take it all every year.”

As the trainer at that time, what did you see him play through?
“I saw him through a ruptured gastroc in his leg. I saw him play with a separated shoulder. The doctor was leaving on a trip to the Orient and he says, ‘There’s no way Tingelhoff will play this week,’ but he did. The thing about Tingelhoff, he was (like) a linebacker. He made more tackles on the special teams. He was a good leader. He led by example. Hard worker. Undrafted. Everything that you’d ever want in a player. He was starting to get lost in the shadows because of those Super Bowl losses. That’s where a lot of the Vikings got shut out. We still did OK; we have quite a few guys in.”

When you talked to him, did he seem like he thought it was taking a while, too?
“He knew it would be nice, but he never felt that he was being slighted. He wasn’t that kind of a guy. Tingelhoff had a lot of humility, but tougher than nails.”

Was there lobbying done by the organization that needed to be done to get to this point?
“There was a little bit. (Fran) Tarkenton talked to a newspaper guy yesterday who is very influential. I just talked to Tarkenton and he told me about talking to that guy. If you know Tark, he can talk you into anything.”

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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