Mick Tingelhoff, a Hall of Fame center who started in 240 consecutive games in his 17 seasons with the Minnesota Vikings and who played in four Super Bowls, died Saturday at an assisted living facility in Lakeville, Minnesota. He was 81.
The cause was Parkinson’s disease with dementia, his wife, Phyllis, said.
Tingelhoff, who played at center and linebacker for three seasons at the University of Nebraska, wasn’t selected in the NFL’s 1962 draft. But the Vikings signed him, envisioning him as a linebacker.
They shifted him to center in their second preseason game, and he became an anchor of their offensive line. He was selected for the Pro Bowl in six consecutive seasons and named a first-team All-Pro five times in the 1960s. Listed at 6 feet, 2 inches and 237 pounds, he was quick on his feet and tough enough to block burly defensive linemen.
When Tingelhoff retired after the 1978 season, he ranked No. 2 in NFL history for starting in consecutive games, behind his teammate Jim Marshall’s 270 straight starts at defensive end. The current record is held by quarterback Brett Favre, who started in 297 consecutive games. Tingelhoff and quarterback Philip Rivers, who retired after the 2020 season, are tied for No. 3.
“Mick and Jim were our two leaders,” Bud Grant, who coached the Vikings of Tingelhoff’s time, told The Star Tribune of Minneapolis when Tingelhoff was selected for the Hall in 2015 in the senior category, for players who had been retired for many years.
“It’s hard for me to talk about Mick without Marshall, and Marshall without Mick. Mick was an introvert. Jim was an extrovert. They were different personalities, but really respected and our best players. If I said, ‘Jump,’ they would be the first ones to jump and everybody else would have to jump with them.”
Tingelhoff played on an offensive line that helped the Vikings claim 10 divisional titles from 1968 to 1978. He provided pass protection for Fran Tarkenton, the scrambling quarterback, and he opened holes for running back Chuck Foreman, who had three consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons (1975-1977). He took on opponents’ middle linebackers, most notably Joe Schmidt of the Detroit Lions, Ray Nitschke of the Green Bay Packers and Dick Butkus of the Chicago Bears.
He played on teams that lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in the January 1970 Super Bowl, the Miami Dolphins in 1974, the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1975 and the Oakland Raiders in 1977.
Tarkenton, a Hall of Famer, spoke on Tingelhoff’s behalf at his 2015 Hall of Fame induction in light of his cognitive problems. “Mick’s a man of little words but a lot of action,” said Tarkenton, who choked up and shed tears. The emotional ceremony was attended by many of Tingelhoff’s former teammates, his wife and other family members and friends.
While it’s not clear why Tingelhoff had to endure a lengthy wait to gain entrance to the Hall, in Canton, Ohio, the center position is not a glamour spot and he never won a Super Bowl championship ring.
Henry Michael Tingelhoff was born on May 22, 1940, in Lexington, Nebraska, the youngest of six children of Henry and Clara (Ortmeier) Tingelhoff. He grew up on a family farm and played at center and linebacker for Lexington High School, but his parents never attended his games.
“Dad thought football was a waste of time,” Tingelhoff recalled in 2015. “They weren’t real happy that I got a scholarship to Nebraska. They wanted me to stay on the farm.”
In addition to his wife, Phyllis (Kent) Tingelhoff, he is survived by their sons Michael and Patrick, 12 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
After leaving pro football, Tingelhoff worked in commercial real estate.
Bud Grant called him “one of the greatest Vikings of all time.”