Considered one of the greatest centers of all-time, Mick Tingelhoff started 240 consecutive regular-season games. That was good enough for third all-time behind Brett Favre (297) and Jim Marshall (270). Over his 17-year career, he played on ten playoff teams and went to four Super Bowls. He was one of only ten players to play in all four Minnesota Vikings’ Super Bowl appearances. He is also one of only six players to have his jersey retired by the Minnesota Vikings.
Tingelhoff played all four years of high school football for Lexington High School in Lexington, Nebraska. He then went to Nebraska to play under Bill Jennings. According to Tingelhoff, “Nobody was interested in me other than Nebraska.”
When asked about whether he always wanted to play professional football, Tingelhoff responded, “No. Not really. I had no idea that I would be able to when I was in high school. Then I got into college and people said that I might have a chance. Things worked out.”
However, Tingelhoff went undrafted. “[The Vikings] were the only team interested in me, to tell you the truth,” he recalled. “After the draft, a couple of days later I got a phone call. It was the Vikings and they wanted to talk to me.”
He made an immediate impact. After three preseason games, he became the starter and stayed the starter for the remainder of his career.
Tingelhoff enjoyed playing center. He said, “It was about the only position I ever played.” He continued, “As the center, we had to call out the defenses. Whether it was even defense or 4-3 defense, or over or under. I enjoyed it.”
When he was asked about the reason for losing four Super Bowls, Tingelhoff commented, “I have been asked this before. I really don’t know. We had beaten the teams before. On that day, we just didn’t do it. You play a team one day and beat them. Then, play them two weeks later and lose to them. That’s the game of football.”
Over his career, Tingelhoff went to six straight Pro Bowls, was named consensus All-Pro six times, was named to the Minnesota Vikings’ 25th Anniversary team as well as the 40th Anniversary team, and was named the NFL’s Top Offensive Lineman of the Year by the 1,000-Yard Club in 1969.
After retiring from football, Tingelhoff became a stockbroker. He has since retired from that and has focused on time with his family.
In 2003, Tingelhoff was inducted into the inaugural class of the Professional Football Researchers Association’s (PFRA) Hall of Very Good. The Hall of Very Good is the PFRA’s way of honoring players who have had excellent careers, but are not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Teammate Carl Eller was also inducted in that class. Tingelhoff recalled, “We called [Eller] ‘The Moose Man’ because he was so big. Great guy.”
In 2012, Tingelhoff received the Gerald R. Ford Legends Award, presented to legendary football centers, during the Rimington Trophy presentation. The Rimington Trophy is presented to the best center in college football that season.
Tingelhoff has never been a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, let alone an inductee. When asked about the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Mick’s voice had a drastic change in tone. He said, “Well, that’s life. If they don’t want me in, they don’t want me in.” He continued, “It would be great to get in, but it’s not that big a deal to me.”
According to teammate Ed White, “Mick was tough as nails.” He continued, “He played well against all middle linebackers.” Comparing Tingelhoff to his contemporaries, White said, “[Mick] was every bit as good as [Mike] Webster. None were any better than Mick.”
Tingelhoff currently lives in Minnesota. He has three children (two boys and a girl) and at last count, twelve grandchildren.
• Named NFL’s Top Offensive Lineman of the Year by the 1,000-Yard Club (1969)
• Inducted into the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame (1980)
• Inducted into the Minnesota Vikings’ Ring of Honor (2001)
• Inducted into the Professional Football Researchers Association’s Inaugural Class of the Hall of Very Good (2003)
• His number (53) was retired by the Minnesota Vikings
• Member of the Minnesota Vikings’ 25th Anniversary Team
• Member of the Minnesota Vikings’ 40th Anniversary Team
• Was named one of the Minnesota Vikings’ 50 Greatest Players
• Received the Gerald R. Ford Legends Award (2012)
Ken Crippen is the executive director of the Professional Football Researchers Association. He has researched and written about pro football history for over two decades. He won the Pro Football Writers of America’s Dick Connor Writing Award for Feature Writing and was named the Ralph Hay Award winner by the Professional Football Researchers Association for lifetime achievement on pro football history.
Follow him on twitter @KenCrippen