It took 32 years of eligibility to happen, but Vikings center Mick Tingelhoff got his long overdue call to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, as he was selected to the Hall of Fame Class of 2015 – the announcement coming at the NFL Honors awards banquet Saturday night in Phoenix prior to Sunday’s Super Bowl.
Tingelhoff’s nomination was forwarded for induction by the PFHOF Seniors Committee, as he had run out of eligibility as a non-finalist more than 25 years removed from his playing career.
Upon getting the news Saturday afternoon in Arizona that he had been selected, it seemed as though the long wait was worth it for the longtime Vikings center.
“It feels great, it really does feel great,” Tingelhoff said. “I never thought I would (get inducted), but here I am.”
Tingelhoff’s road to the Hall of Fame was as unlikely as it was long of a wait. He entered the NFL with the second-year Vikings franchise in 1962 as an undrafted free agent out of Nebraska. He won the starting job as a rookie and started 240 consecutive games throughout his career, which spanned from the rag-tag Vikings of the early 1960s to playing in four Super Bowls in the 1970s.
Tingelhoff’s career couldn’t have been more disparate in terms of the coaches he played under with the Vikings. He came to the team with bombastic vulgarian Norm Van Brockin, who took over the Vikings in 1961 just months removed from winning the NFL championship and had little tolerance for failure, to Bud Grant. While Grant was a no-nonsense coach, he earned the respect and admiration of his players with an even-keeled demeanor that carried over to the team. The two coaches couldn’t have been much more different.
“It was a little different,” Tingelhoff said. “Van Brocklin was a mean guy. He was yelling at us all the time. Bud was just the opposite. He was a very clean guy and a very good coach.”
Tingelhoff retired in 1978 after spending 17 seasons with the Vikings. Along with his longevity came the recognition by his peers of his high level of play. Tingelhoff was named to six consecutive Pro Bowl from 1964-69 and was named the center of the All-Pro team five times (1964-66 and 1968-69).
He credits his longevity as much to luck as anything else, despite still holding the ironman streak for offensive linemen almost four decades after his retirement from the game he loved.
“I was very lucky, because I played 17 years and never got hurt and never missed a game,” Tingelhoff said. “I played 240 games straight. I was very lucky. I never got hurt, but I was a center. I wasn’t getting hit. I was hitting middle linebackers.”
Perhaps the most impressive accolade of Tingelhoff’s career is the success his teams had. The Vikings won 10 division titles in an 11-year span with Tingelhoff at center and went to four Super Bowls.
By the time his career was over, Tingelhoff had played in 240 straight games. At the time, he was second on the all-time consecutive starts list, trailing only Vikings teammate Jim Marshall (270 games). In the 37 years that have followed, only one player – Brett Favre – has started more consecutive games than Tingelhoff and Marshall had when they retired.
Tingelhoff was inducted into the Vikings Ring of Honor in 2001, had his No. 53 retired by the organization and, in 2011, was the recipient of the Gerald R. Ford Legends Award that was presented to him at the annual Rimington Trophy presentation banquet – which honors the top collegiate offensive lineman each year.
Despite being acknowledged as the best center of his era in 1960s, the Hall of Fame has been an elusive goal for Tingelhoff in his post-playing career. No longer eligible for modern-era consideration, players who have been out of the league for more than 25 years are submitted as nominees by the Seniors Committee.
He had to wait so long that there came a time when he was convinced it just wasn’t going to happen for him. He was at a loss to determine why his body of work wasn’t recognized after his career as it was while he was playing. Some have pointed to the four Super Bowl losses, saying that, with even one Super Bowl championship, he likely would have been inducted much sooner than he was.
“Maybe it was the Super Bowl losses,” Tingelhoff said. “That was too bad. I don’t know why. I really don’t know.”
It took a long time for Tingelhoff to get in, but it finally happened Saturday. He becomes the 13th member of the Vikings organization who spent the majority of his career in Minnesota to enter the Hall of Fame, joining Fran Tarkenton, Alan Page, Bud Grant, Jim Finks, Paul Krause, Ron Yary, Carl Eller, Gary Zimmerman, Randall McDaniel, John Randle, Chris Doleman and Cris Carter.
Tingelhoff will be inducted in August and you can be certain he will be surrounded by many of his former teammates – both those players whose careers came and went much quicker than his and his fellow Vikings in the Hall of Fame. He hopes that he soon will be joined by another Vikings teammate who has long been deflected from Hall of Fame consideration – fellow ironman Marshall.
When that day comes, the legacy of the Vikings of the late 1960s and 1970s will be complete with their rightful place in the hallowed halls of Canton.
“Jim should be here too,” Tingelhoff said. “He was a really good player and he should be here too I think.”
Tingelhoff voted into Hall of Fame
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