Mick Tingelhoff's toughness was legendary, but his talent backed it up.
Or, was it the other way around, with an elite quickness and athleticism reinforced by his resolve?
Either way, he demonstrated both through 240 consecutive regular-season starts, which is tied with Philip Rivers for the third-most by any player all-time. That total trails only Brett Favre's 297 and Jim Marshall's 270.
Tingelhoff also opened 19 playoff contests for Minnesota, including Super Bowls IV, VIII, IX and XI. The Vikings won their division in 10 of his final 11 seasons and claimed the 1969 NFL Championship.
Personal accolades included six trips to the Pro Bowl, five First-Team All-Pro selections, placement on Minnesota's 25th and 40th Anniversary Teams, inclusion in the 50 Greatest Vikings, induction to the Vikings Ring of Honor and enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Tingelhoff's No. 53 jersey is one of six retired by the Vikings, resulting in his placement in the "Frozen in Time" exhibit at the Minnesota Vikings Museum. He attended the grand opening in July 2018.
Whether blocking for the likes of Tommy Mason and Bill "Boom Boom" Brown in the early days or opening holes for Chuck Foreman in the Seventies, Tingelhoff helped Vikings running backs gain ground and kept tabs on the improvisation of Fran Tarkenton. [Note: could place the video/comments from Mick about blocking for Fran here] It was clear for opposing interior defensive linemen that, in order to take down Tarkenton, an interior defensive lineman first had to tangle with Tingelhoff.
Admired by teammates and respected by opponents for the toughness that was hewn on Nebraska farmland, the former Cornhusker arrived in Minnesota undrafted and didn't back down.
He began as a linebacker but switched to center before the second preseason game of the 1962 season, the second in franchise history. Tingelhoff became part of a core group of players that transformed the Vikings from a fledgling franchise into a divisional dynasty.
Hall of Fame Head Coach Bud Grant told ESPN in 2015 that Tingelhoff "was a catalyst" for the team's successes.
"I have no doubt that had he not played center, he would have been a Hall of Fame linebacker," Grant said. "He played center with the mentality and tenacity of a linebacker."
In 2001, Vikings original athletic trainer Fred Zamberletti upheld the lore of Tingelhoff playing through a torn leg muscle to not miss a snap against the Packers. Zamberletti told the Star Tribune, "We taped him all the way from his toes to his buttocks, and he played every play against Green Bay."
Godfrey Zaunbrecher, a backup center with the Vikings from 1971-73, was quoted as saying, "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."
View images of Pro Football Hall of Famer and Vikings Legend Mick Tingelhoff.
Grant, longtime Offensive Coordinator Jerry Burns and Vikings legends traveled to Canton, Ohio, in 2015 to celebrate Tingelhoff's overdue enshrinement. He is one of 21 players who has made the Hall of Fame after beginning his career as an undrafted free agent.
"It's a wonderful occasion to honor Mick in this way, and to be a small part of it was really gratifying," Grant told Vikings.com. "I can't remember when I've been happier for anybody than I am for Mick Tingelhoff. The only thing that will make it happier is if Jim Marshall was here, and hopefully he will be at some point."
Burns, who passed away at the age of 94 in May 2021, said Tingelhoff is the best center he's ever seen and said everything about him was "first-class."
"From the standpoint of a human being and the type of man he is, there's nobody better than Mick Tingelhoff," Burns told Vikings.com.
A substantial group of family members who knew Tingelhoff as their devoted and loving husband, father or grandfather also made the trip to celebrate his enshrinement. In their minds, he just also happened to play football at a high level.
"It's been wonderful. It's just the greatest honor that you could imagine," said Phyllis Tingelhoff, Mick's wife of 61 years.
Their son, Pat, who spent part of his youth as a ball boy during training camps, said:
"We really didn't think of him as a football player. He went to Cub scouts, did all the things other dads were doing. We never really thought about what he did until he got older. He definitely was a family man first. He always took care of us and never pushed us into athletics, but supported us in whatever we wanted to do."
The Tingelhoffs proudly shared their patriarch, and Tarkenton was just as proud to present his great friend and teammate of 12 total seasons for enshrinement.
"Mick's a man of little words, but a lot of action," Tarkenton said.
The quarterback choked up when he said Tingelhoff "waited 37 years," before adding, "but Mick's in the Hall of Fame."
A video tribute preceded Tingelhoff and Tarkenton taking the stage for an everlasting snapshot, shoulder-to-shoulder in Gold Jackets.
"He did everything, he called the blocking, he made the blocks against the defensive tackles and made the blocks against the great linebackers like [Hall of Famers Dick] Butkus and [Ray] Nitschke, who were in our division," Tarkenton said in the video. "He played against the best and was as quick as any center I've ever seen. He had a jolt, a motor, a capacity to hit people that was stunning."
The video included archived footage of an interview Tingelhoff gave in his early days and spoke about his role in protecting his QB.
"When you block for Fran Tarkenton, you really have to be able to go," said Tingelhoff with wavy hair a little longer than a crew cut. "You have to maintain contact with your man all the time because when Fran passes you, he'll probably be back again."
Tingelhoff passed away Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, at the age of 81.