Every Vikings Fan Should Know the Legendary Center ‘Mick’
In the 61-year history of the Minnesota Vikings, the franchise has retired six numbers. Those numbers will never be worn by another member of the organization.
The first one to receive that honor was Fran Tarkenton in 1978. The quarterback held all notable NFL passing records when he retired. He is still the greatest Vikings signal-caller of all time, and his number ten will not be given to any other player again.
In 1988, the Vikings retired the number 88. Allen Page won the MVP award as the first and one of only two defensive players in NFL history to this day. While still playing professional football, Page attended law school and later became a justice of the Minnesota supreme court and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The second member of the ‘Purple People Eaters’ had his number 70 retired in 1999. Jim Marshall started 270 consecutive games and played 282 consecutive games from 1961 to 1979 for the Vikings. The fact that he’s not a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame is a head-scratcher.
To this day, the last player to get his number retired is the legendary number 80, Cris Carter, in 2003. Carter holds most of the Vikings’ receiving records and is among the all-time leaders in catches and receiving touchdowns in NFL history.
Two years prior, however, the organization retired the number of two offensive linemen. One was the late Korey Stringer. Stringer played 93 games for the team before he passed away from complications brought by a heat stroke in training camp 2001. No Viking will ever wear his number 77 again.
In the same year as Stringer, the Vikings retired another offensive lineman, whose legacy should never be forgotten.
Henry Michael ‘Mick’ Tingelhoff
Tingelhoff is one of only six players who had the numbers retired by the Minnesota Vikings. That by itself makes the legendary number 53 an all-time great of the franchise. However, there is a lot more to know about the ultimate Viking.
Tingelhoff was born in 1940. He was the sixth child and second son of the family. His parents were German immigrants who owned a farm in Nebraska, and they were not happy that Mick wanted to play football.
“Dad thought football was a waste of time. Mom and Dad were from Germany. Mean Germans. They weren’t real happy that I got a scholarship to Nebraska. They wanted me to stay on the farm.”Mick Tingelhoff in the Minneapolis Star Tribune
In high school, the athlete played linebacker and center and helped the team turn around from a 0-9 season as a sophomore to a 9-0 season as a senior while winning the state title. The team only allowed one touchdown in the whole season.
In college, however, Tingelhoff had a tough time getting on the field, as he did not start until his senior season. Nebraska finished the season 3-6-1, with a record of 2-5 in the Big-8 conference, but Tingelhoff started every game that year. Something that would define his career.
Vikings Didn’t Draft Mick
The football player got an education degree and thought he had to use it to become a science teacher after all 14 NFL teams passed on him in the draft. The draft back in the day lasted 20 rounds, and 20 centers were drafted. Tingelhoff, however, was not one of them.
He had three options, the NFL, the CFL, and becoming a teacher. In the CFL, two people that would later be part of the Minnesota Vikings organization tried to get the center to play for their team – the legendary Bud Grant, the head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, and Jim Finks, the general manager of the Calgary Stampeders. Later in their careers, Grant became the Vikings coach, and Finks became the general manager of the franchise.
In addition to interest from the CFL, Tingelhoff drew interest from one NFL team as an undrafted free agent. The Vikings wanted him.
“[The Vikings] were the only team interested in me, to tell you the truth. After the draft, a couple of days later I got a phone call. It was the Vikings and they wanted to talk to me.”Mick Tingelhoff about interest from the Vikings
The story of the player signing for the Vikings is a great one. Norm Van Brocklin, the head coach of the expansion team Vikings, sent a scout to Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1962. He gave the scout the task of signing Tingelhoff with a $500 signing bonus in cash. However, the scout just kept the money, as he could convince the athlete to sign the deal anyway. Tingelhoff made $9,000 in his rookie year.
The scout’s heist came to light when Tingelhoff made a mistake and the grumpy head coach, Van Brocklin, yelled at him, “I gave you 500 bucks, and you come up here and do that?” Mick’s comeback was, “You didn’t give me 500 bucks.” Later, Van Brocklin gave Tingelhoff the $500.
The head coach didn’t only make his player some money but also made an important move that set up Tingelhoff’s career when he switched his position from linebacker to center after a few practices.
Tingelhoff’s mix of quickness, athleticism, and legendary toughness was the reason for him starting 240 consecutive games for the Vikings as a center. The streak lasted from his rookie year in 1962 to 1978, the year of his retirement. He also played in 19 postseason games, including four Super Bowls for the purple team. All of them, of course, were starts.
But he didn’t just start. He was an elite player and had the accolades to back it up. Between 1964 and 1970, he was part of seven All-Pro teams. Five times in the first team and twice in the second. He made six appearances at the Pro Bowl from 1964 to 1969.
Chemistry With Bud Grant
Grant arrived as head coach of the organization in 1967 after Van Brocklin finished with a losing season in five of the six seasons. Tingelhoff was one of Grant’s leaders of his four Super Bowl teams.
“Mick was a catalyst for our team and one of the most respected players on those teams. I have no doubt that had he not played center, he would’ve been a Hall of Fame linebacker. He played center with the mentality and tenacity of a linebacker. Mick’s intangibles were the thing that made him so great. He was a captain the whole time I coached him and guys looked at him as an example of how to do thing.”Bud Grant, about his captain Mick Tingelhoff
Outside of the football field, they were also close. Grant and Tingelhoff were both quiet and stoic people. And they both liked to be outdoors — a perfect duo for a hunting trip. Jerry Edelman, a friend of Mick, described their relationship well, according to Marc Craig of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
“One time, Mick and one of his teammates went hunting with Bud in Nebraska. They agreed ahead of time that they wouldn’t say a word on the drive down until Bud spoke first. Finally they had to stop for gas. Bud’s first words were, ‘It was full when I left.’ That was Bud. That’s all he needed to say to make them understand they were paying”Jerry Edelman, about the relationship of Bud Grant and Mick Tingelhoff
Craig added, ‘They made it through Minnesota and almost through Iowa without a word being spoken.’
Starting 240 consecutive games is almost impossible in the violent sport of football. Tingelhoff, however, has done just that. He wasn’t just able to do it because he was lucky with injuries. He was injured. The difference to most other humans is just that he still played football.
He wasn’t the only Vikings with a long stretch of consecutive games played. In the 70s, Jim Marshall ranked first, Mick Tingelhoff second, and Alan Page third in the most consecutive starts in NFL history.
Fran Tarkenton talked about his center’s toughness in Jim Bruton’s book, ‘Vikings 50: All-Time Greatest Players in Franchise History’:
“If I gathered every football player that I knew or played with in my life and put them in a room with the instructions to fight their way out, I would put my money on Mick to get there first.”Fran Tarkenton, about his center
One story, in particular, shows the toughness of the all-time great. The late Sid Hartman of the Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote a story of Tingelhoff playing an epic game against the Packers and their head coach, Vince Lombardi.
“One of Tingelhoff’s biggest boosters was the late Vince Lombardi, who was a personal friend and told me after one of the Vikings’ victories over the Packers in Green Bay, ‘That number 53 played one of the greatest games I’ve ever witnessed a center play.’ And when I told Lombardi that Tingelhoff played with a torn muscle, he laughed.
So to prove my point, I got Don Lannon, the Vikings’ doctor at the time, to send Lombardi an X-ray of Tingelhoff’s knee. The Packers coach was shocked and brought it up the next time I saw him.
When the Vikings retired his jersey in 2001, longtime Vikings trainer Fred Zamberletti verified what I told Lombardi when he told the Star Tribune: ‘I remember once he tore a [led] muscle. We taped him all the way from his toes to his buttocks, and he played every play against Green Bay. I remember another time, he had a separated shoulder. The doctor said there was no way he could play, but somehow he had a miraculous recovery and played Sunday.”Sid Hartman, Minneapolis Star Tribune, about Tingelhoff’s toughness
Of course, he played Sunday. He always did. His backup, Godfrey Zaunbrecher, knew that he’d probably never see the field.
“I am the third-team center on a football team that only has two centers on the roster. I play behind Mick Tingelhoff and Mick Tingelhoff hurt.”Godfrey Zaunbrecher, about his role behind Tingelhoff
Hall of Fame
It took the center 32 years of eligibility to get the votes to become enshrined into the Hall of Fame in 2015. Fran Tarkenton held the speech about his friend.
Tingelhoff had Tarkenton’s back during their playing days, and this time, the quarterback had the center’s back. He suffered from short-term memory loss, so the Hall of Famer, Tarkenton, offered to speak for the man, whom he called his best friend. He was overwhelmed by emotions himself but delivered a beautiful speech.
The quarterback described his longtime center with the perfect words:
“Mick wasn’t a Minnesota Viking. Mick Tingelhoff is the Minnesota Viking.”Tarkenton, talks about his friend, Tingelhoff
Tingelhoff was respected by opponents and admired by teammates.
“From the standpoint of a human being and the type of man he is, there’s nobody better than Mick Tingelhoff.”
Overall, Tingelhoff helped Tarkenton to set NFL and franchise records. He also helped four different running backs to Pro Bowls, including the great Chuck Foreman, who joined the team in 1973. Bud Grant told his rookie to pay close attention to center Tingelhoff and Dave Osborn, his fellow running back.
“He said, ‘Just do everything those guys do, and you’ll be all right.’ I don’t think you could give a better compliment to a teammate.”Chuck Foreman, remembers Tingelhoff
The legendary Mick Tingelhoff passed away on September 11th, 2021, but his legacy will live forever.
Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. He chose the Vikings as his favorite team, despite Christian Ponder being the quarterback at the time. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt