Michael "Mick" Tingelhoff, Vikings Hall of Fame center and quiet, indestructible leader of Bud Grant's four Super Bowl teams of the 1970s, died Saturday after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer's. He was 81.
"When we came to the Vikings [in 1967], Mick and Jim [Marshall] were our two leaders," Grant said in 2015, when Tingelhoff made the Pro Football Hall of Fame after a 37-year wait. "Mick was an introvert. Jim was an extrovert. They were really respected and our best players. They bought the program, which was vital. If I said, 'Jump,' Mick and Jim would be the first ones to jump, and everybody else would have to jump with them."
Upon hearing the news Saturday, Grant said, "Mick was a great football player and one of the greatest Vikings of all-time. I loved Mick Tingelhoff."
Tingelhoff came to the Vikings as an undrafted free agent linebacker from Nebraska in 1962, the Vikings' second season. He shifted to center in the second preseason game, and never missed a regular-season or postseason game over the next 17 seasons. His 240 consecutive starts are a record for an NFL center and second in Vikings' history behind only Marshall's 270.
"I came to the Vikings a year before Mick, but we left at the same time [after the 1978 season]," Vikings Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton said. "He was my guy. He played 17 years, never missed a game, never missed a practice. Mick was my best friend by far."
In a touching and, unfortunately, sad moment in the history of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it was Tarkenton who walked with Tingelhoff to the podium in Canton, Ohio, that summer night in 2015 when Tingelhoff was inducted. Unable to give a speech because of his advanced cognitive impairment, Tingelhoff stood next to his friend as Tarkenton said, "Mick's a man of little words, but a lot of action."
Tingelhoff made the first of six straight Pro Bowls in 1964. He also was a five-time first-team All-Pro and helped the Vikings win their division 10 times in his final 11 seasons.
Tingelhoff was named one of the 50 greatest Vikings of all-time. He's a member of the Vikings' 25thand 40thanniversary teams. His No. 53 jersey was retired in 2001 when he went into the team's Ring of Honor.
"Mick Tingelhoff was the anchor of the great Vikings teams during an amazing era that included four Super Bowls," the Wilf family, which owns the team, said in a statement. "A humble but strong leader, he defined toughness. Mick's legacy will live on."
Although Tingelhoff was known as a quiet, introverted leader, he was no pushover. In 2015, Dave Osborn, former Vikings running back and lifelong friend of Tingelhoff's, told a classic story about a contract negotiation Mick had in 1974.
Jim Finks had left as general manager. Mike Lynn had replaced him.
"Mick's contract was up, so Lynn told Mick to come in and talk," said Osborn, sitting next to Tingelhoff during their weekly breakfast get-together at the McDonald's in Lakeville.
Osborn told how Tingelhoff walked into Lynn's office and sat his keys down on Lynn's desk. Lynn treasured his desk, Osborn went on, and it always was decked with memorabilia and a bowl of cinnamon candy.
"They started talking and Lynn says, 'Mick, you're really not that good anymore, so we can't really pay you because you're overpaid now,'" Osborn said. "So Mick took his arm and swept the desk. Trophies and that bowl of cinnamon candy went everywhere."
Tingelhoff stormed out, punching a hole in Lynn's door.
"Mick gets to his car and remembers that he set his car keys on the desk," Osborn said. "So now he has to come back in. He walks back in and everybody is silent, thinking, 'Boy Mick's really going to bust things up now.'"
Tingelhoff walked in, got down on his knees and started searching for his keys.
Tingelhoff smiled. Osborn had triggered a rare memory for his dear old friend.
"I found the keys, got up and walked out," Tingelhoff said. "I guess [Lynn] must have paid me because they didn't get rid of me."